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I was getting off the phone yesterday when Clare asked me who I was talking to. I said, “My dad.”

Merit looked up at me and innocently said to me, “I want a dad.”

My heart sunk. I bent down to her level, looked her in the eyes and after I validated her then I asked, “Why do you want a dad, Merit?”

She replied clearly, “Well, all of my friends have dads.”

I explained to her that there was a kid in her class who has two moms, another one who has a mom who is a single parent, and that while some kids have dads, not everyone does. Some families have two dads. Some families have one dad and no mom. And some families have a dad and a mom. And some kids live with their grandparents or are raised by people who aren’t their parents.

She said, “Ok.” And that was the end of the discussion. She went on being her happy little self.

But it wasn’t done within me.

The last few weeks as I have been promoting my book on podcasts and doing interviews, the most popular question I get is, “You got out of Mississippi once, why in the world did you go back?”

I’ve been thinking about that. Especially now that I have a daughter to think about. What will she face in school as she grows up having two moms? Am I putting her through what I went through? Is she going to grow up feeling shame about her family? How do we make her feel “seen” and “celebrated” for her differences – not in spite of?

The tears streamed down my face this morning and my heart broke a little because my own shame began to expose itself. The last thing I want to do is put my history on my daughter. So, I have to cry. I must deal with my feelings.

There is a part of me that is always dealing with being different and yet still trying to integrate into a society where people like me are not well represented. It’s easy to get lost if I am not careful. People have been kind and accepting over the years as I have been willing to be vulnerable and open about who I am – but when vulnerability is constantly required to get beyond labels, I get tired sometimes.

It’s not that I am not ok with who I am – I just feel like I am always having to make others feel ok with who I am.

Shame is sneaky.

I don’t want Merit to know shame the way I have.

As I was talking to Clare and my mom about this, this morning, I said, “I just don’t think I can do this – I don’t know if I have the heart to put Merit through what I have been through.” I was alluding to the fact that maybe we need to move to a place where LGBTQ+ families are better represented. And then I cried, hard. It felt like grieving.

For me, when I deal with what I am feeling then the skies part and I can see more clearly. I saw my parents, Merit’s cousins, Merit’s aunts and uncles, Clare’s mom, Josh (Merit’s donor) and his family, our home and our land, our friends…and I was reminded that I was never close to my grandparents or my cousins and neither was Clare. That’s why we have stayed here to raise our daughter.

But it’s more than that. We’ve stayed here because we feel whole here.

Also, one day, once Merit understands how she got here – she may decide to call Josh her dad, and that’s ok with us and between the two of them. He is in her life and will always be in her life. She is surrounded by so much love – I often find it completely overwhelming. Her experience is going to be so different from mine.

We will do ANYTING for Merit, even if it means continuing to be vulnerable. My mom reminded me of what a joyful little girl she is and that she will see the world and experience the world so differently than I ever did.

This little soul that I call my daughter continues to push me to dig deeper and let go of even more fear that is embedded within the crevices of my heart. Her existence pushes me to be a better version of myself each day. And it's hard fucking work.

We’ve already called Merit’s school to talk about how we can work together to make “different” families feel more represented and special. We will start getting together regularly with other LGBTQ families in the area as well. We are setting intentions that require vulnerability and action – I am ok with that.

This wave of doubt will pass, and when I do have these honest and open conversations with others to make our community more aware of how we can include one another in a more meaningful way, I know that I will be reminded, once again, that love always wins.

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Yesterday, my 8-year-old niece came over and we were sitting on the couch chatting when I caught her staring at the picture behind me. I could tell that she was thinking deeply when she asked me, "What does that picture mean to you?"

I was taken aback by her question and I wasn't sure what kind of answer she was looking for (I am often in conversation with a 3-year-old), so I said, "That is the Chapel of Memories at Mississippi State."

She wasn't satisfied with that answer, so she said, "No. What does that picture mean to you?"

Her curiosity reminded me of my 8-year-old self - except I would have been too shy to ask. Her question touched my heart and I was excited to have a more meaningful conversation with her.

I hesitated for a moment and thought back to the day when I was standing in front of the chapel taking that picture. The chapel had always been a special place to me until I was sat down time after time in its pews in 2004 and told that I was going to hell . The day I took this picture in 2016, I went intentionally to sit in its pews to revisit the past and to feel my sadness, so I could move on. When I stepped outside, the light was just right, and there was one door open while the other two were closed.

It struck me in that moment that if I look at what felt like rejection for too long that I would miss all of the open and loving hearts around me. It was up to me to open myself up fully to life again. That same year (2016), Clare and I moved our lives and our business to Starkville (my hometown) and although we have been faced with many challenges along the way - our intention was to always look for the open doors. We kept walking through each open door, often not knowing what we were walking through, but trusting that our hearts knew best. And it has paid off.

If we had not moved back to the place that I was most scared of returning to, we wouldn't have our little Merit, we wouldn't have the home and land that we love so much, we wouldn't have Clare's mom living with us, we wouldn't have the opportunity to have my parents to be such a big part of my family's life, we wouldn't have the businesses we have today doing the things that we love, we wouldn't have walked in Starkville's first pride parade, we wouldn't have had so many things. Mostly, I wouldn't have such a full heart.

I've put myself out there again and it has been worth it. It has been hard, but I'd do it again and again because this community has enveloped us.

I snapped back to the present and told Etta, my niece, "This picture reminds me that when it feels like life is against me that there is always an open door. A lot of times we look at the closed doors so long that we forget to look for another way - there is always another way."

She was silent after that. I could tell she was thinking. She didn't ask any follow up questions.

What's funny is, someone saw this picture last week and asked to buy a digital copy of the photo. Clearly, this picture is trying to to get my attention.

I've been thinking about the chapel again and the moment I took this photo - inside all of it I can find everything true about life. There's hope, there's fear, there's pain, there's courage, there's love, there's rejection, there's compassion, there's suffering...there's everything.

Thank you, Etta, for making me pause and reflect. There is so much love inside of me each and every day and I am so grateful for the journey. I am so grateful to be grateful.

There is always a way. There is always an open door - somewhere.

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Yesterday, I was jumping on the trampoline with my 3-year-old. We were both so happy to be ending the day with each other - me just finishing up work and her just getting home from school - plus, it was gorgeous outside. I was in such a blissful state of appreciation when Merit shouted out loud, "I love me with my whole heart!"

My heart expanded and I said, "Merit, what did you say?" I had to hear it again.

She said without hesitation, "I love me with my whole heart! I love everybody!"

I melted.

Earlier in the day I was revising my soon-to-be published memoir (September '22) and was acutely aware of how the revision process is making me dig deep into my intentions, the feelings around my memories and interactions, and mostly, my spiritual journey.

Along with my book editing process, Merit's words jolted me back into a state of remembering just how self-love has been so fleeting for me on my journey and in comparison, her journey of self-love is one that seems secure and steadfast. And then, I wonder, how can I nurture her love for herself when it has been so hard for me to get to a point where I can say I love myself again?

My journey has been plagued with insecurities around who I am on the surface versus who I am beyond my labels. The central part of my own transformation has been coming to terms with each part of me, allowing them to all shine in their own way. That doesn't mean I have it all figured out - it just means, there's a way. And I want to point Merit in a direction that allows her to have her journey, her own pain, her own growth, but still remember that who she really is never changes.

Who I really am has never changed.

I've just gone on this ride of life like we all do - looking for acceptance, belonging, connection, and love. Merit will do the same thing.

As I watch her grow into the smart, sassy, independent, loving leader that she is - I think about how lucky I am that I get to remember every day that what she sees in herself and in the world around her is the truer perspective that I keep embracing further because of her.

Today I dropped her off at school, and outside of the school there were men in small groups, standing together, and praying. I couldn't hear their words, but I could feel their intention. Their intention was to love. Tears poured out of my eyes and it hit me - we all just want to love and be loved no matter how we express it.

Traditional Christian prayer is definitely something that has pushed my buttons over the years - I've been prayed for by other people to be changed one too many times. It has put a bad taste in my mouth. I've discovered for myself that prayer for me isn't about changing circumstances, changing others, or asking for special requests - it's about connecting with my inner voice, my heart, and allowing myself to be present and grateful so that I can be a better person in the world.

I've struggled with religion since coming out of the closet - rightfully so - but I am starting to come to peace with the fact that no matter how we each express our need to love and be loved, that it's all beautiful in its own way. We are all here just trying to figure it out. And, yet, the simplest of ways are always the answer.

As Merit always tells me, "God is in my heart."

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