"My buttons are popping off! I'm so proud of you!"
I can still hear my daddy saying this. It is something he said a lot to each of his children. Often it was accompanied by pats on the back, a hug, and an additional "so, so, SO proud!"
Whenever I played the piano for church or received high marks on a test, or helped an older member at church carry their dinner tray at Wednesday night supper or ... anything ... any little thing, Daddy would say, I am proud of you.
It got to be embarrassing as I got older. "Daddy, please don't brag on me when I'm standing there. Please don't brag on me to anyone. It (whatever it was) is not that big of a deal."
I miss my father. Sometimes, I long to hear him say, "I'm proud of you."
Maybe it is the ads for Father's Day gifts and cards (June 20) that has me feeling sentimental, but there are more than just precious memories swirling around. I know there are adults who have not had the support of parents, and the lack of encouragement has had its toll. There are teenagers now who struggle because a mother or a father has said to them, “You do not belong to me.”
I think of my own sons and cannot imagine ever being in a situation where I or Brad would say, “You are not my son.” Unfortunately, that is a reality for some youth.
I have attended four trainings in the last few years led by Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN). The information shared is so important! I know that many of you who are educators or who work in community agencies or social work are very familiar with the good work TSPN does. The statistics are always hard to see. Hopefully, we are learning how to talk about this previously taboo subject and get people help and support.
The most heartbreaking statistic -- and the most “fixable” one -- is that suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. LGBTQ youth attempt suicide three or four more times than heterosexual youth. What do I call the fixable part? LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.
My heart broke and was at the same time hopeful as I heard statistics about the overwhelmingly positive impact a parent, teacher, school counselor, clergy -- any adult -- can have on the life (life!) of a youth. When you are told by your parents, family, church leaders, or other adults that you do not belong, that you are not normal, what happens to your spirit?
I remember 6th grade, 8th grade, my freshman year in college. Do you? Oh my goodness! There were some difficult times, but I always had supportive and loving adults. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope that we would be a community to say to any youth, “I am proud of you. I am here for you. I am not ashamed of you.”
June is Pride Month, when the LGBTQ community says they are proud of who they are and ask for acceptance. I think about my daddy who was adamant on letting me know he was proud of me, accepted me, and loved me. There may be a youth in your family, neighborhood, team or church who just needs one adult to say, “I care about you. I am proud of you." When I hear PRIDE, I can't help but wonder which youth among us needs to hear from an adult, "I am proud to know you. I am proud of you."
Actually, wouldn’t all youth need to hear that?
This is not about being “for” or “against” an issue. If we believe everyone is of sacred worth, then we need to let our children and youth -- all children and youth -- know that we love and accept them. This is about saving lives.
To learn more about this topic, you may visit the websites for Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network or The Trevor Project.
Another resource is the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line, available 24 hours a day/ 365 days a year to help anyone experiencing a mental health crisis. Phone numbers to know and share are 1-855-CRISIS-1 or text TN to 74174
Looking forward to being with a loving and welcoming community this Sunday. I am proud of each of you!
This column originally appeared in a Church Street United Methodist Church weekly email, “Catherine’s Corner,” on June 11.
The Rev. Catherine Nance is senior pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.