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The Hard Lesson of Suicide

by Rev. Tessie Mandeville

The Cathedral of Hope was honored to have Mary Lou Wallner with us this past Sunday May 11, 2003, in Dallas and Oklahoma City. Mary Lou shared her story of tragedy and how God helped her transform that tragedy into healing, not only for herself but for thousands more. Mary Lou's daughter, who was a lesbian and a Christian, committed suicide in February 1997. Anna took her own life after years of struggling with being a lesbian. Her struggle came in part because of the fundamentalist teachings that she received from friends and family that homosexuality is a sin.

I was deeply moved by this story as I recognized that I walked a very similar path at one time in my life. I know many of us have walked this path and we know the struggle. I heard and learned so many things from Mary Lou but there is one thing in particular that I hold up for us today. It is the lesson of compassion. For you see, Mary Lou, shared that she did not show compassion to her daughter or to her daughter's homosexual friends. In fact she said, "I had no use for them."

Mary Lou recognized that it was her judgment that caused Anna so much pain. She was never able to say to her daughter that she loved her no matter what. As a matter of fact, after Anna's death, Mary Lou met Judy Shepard, the mother of Matt Shepard. Many of us know Matt's story and know that he was murdered because of being gay. When Mary Lou met Judy she said publicly, "I am also guilty of a hate crime, though of a different nature. I am guilty of a hate crime because I didn't love my daughter unconditionally."

I don't know about you but when I heard Mary Lou say this, chills went up my spine and it wasn't just the fact that she took public ownership for her part in Anna's death, it was because her words convicted me. Her words had a deep impact on my heart because I realized that Mary Lou is not the only one who is guilty of a hate crime. Mary Lou is not the only one who shows judgment toward others. I am guilty too. We are all guilty.

Unconditional love is something that we know God shows us and we expect this from God. It is something that Jesus showed everyone and we expect this from Jesus. It is not something that we always show each other. Judgment is what we've come to expect from one another. I don't know about you but I'm ready to expect more from myself and from others and I have to believe that God is ready to expect more from me and from others.

Mary Lou has learned a difficult and painful lesson. She has learned that compassion can transform lives in ways that judgment never can. She has learned that God can heal our hearts of judgment and transform them into hearts of compassion. May this be a lesson that we all learn and let us thank God everyday for the slow miracle of transformation.

Please visit Mary Lou's website

Rev. Tessie Mandeville
Pastor, Cathedral of Hope Oklahoma City