Roanoke writer and civic leader Rev. Joe Cobb has teamed with Linda Webb to present Heart to Heart, a weeklong conversation series with a daylong conference. The conversations, held from November 8-13 in a variety of settings, are designed to create dialogue and support for all people seeking deeper understanding in relationship to LGBTQ neighbors and family, and providing the means to strengthen faith.
The event features Susan Cottrell, the founder of FreedHearts.org and an advocate for LGBTQ children, parents, families and allies. She’s written a couple of books which stand at the center of her work with families, so we asked a few questions in advance of her visit.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: While your nonprofit provides a variety of resources for families and individuals –from video courses to public engagemnets, the books are at the heart of the enterprise. What do your books do best, or rather, what do they do that the other resources can’t?
Susan Cottrell: Our books take parents by the hand and walk them through their journey— to respond to their children, and to their churches, with life not death. We help them from triage to full advocacy! Parents continually thank us for being their lifeline on this path.
BCR: What did you learn in writing your first book?
SC: Writing my first book on this topic, I learned how much I love the LGBTQ community. I gained compassion for parents who feel afraid and alone. I also realized how necessary our advocacy work is!
BCR: The workbook includes journaling pages. What can journaling do for us?
SC: Journaling allows us to access hidden fears and memories, to process through them safely, and to keep them from overwhelming us. Journaling contains the fear around our emotions. It’s like someone handing us a difficult letter compared to sitting us down for a difficult talk; we can see that the content is finite, and we can put it down at any time, so we can be on top of the emotions and not feel overwhelmed. To journal is to put your emotions in a container you can pick up and set down as you need.
Remember, you can journal on your computer! Typing helps you bypass your internal editor. The first three minutes is your reasonable brain writing, so be sure to journal for at least 9 minutes, to move past that rational brain.
BCR: You often use a “pay what you can” model to help put the resources in the hands of those who need them. How do potential readers respond to that structure?
SC: I offer “pay what you can” because I want EVERYONE to be able to access the help that they need. When those who can afford to pay more do so, that enables us to continue to offer it to those who cannot pay. But to be honest, it’s been a challenge to bring in the support we need to keep up with continually unfolding opportunities!
BCR: I know you have a lot of stories of the impact of your work. What have you learned recently from one of your readers?
SC: I’ve learned the value of community! One sweet young gal has been hounded by her parents popping up on her college campus and ranting at her from the Bible. Horribly traumatizing. I have held her hand through it, helped her navigate with other family members, and maintaining balance. I endlessly gather in people like her, both LGBT and also parents. I connect with them and connect them with others. I create community. We need to be known and loved, especially when times are hard, when family or culture overall is hard. Life is all about community!
BCR: And finally, what are you reading now?
SC: I’m reading Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, and I’m about to read Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape. This work we do is constant, so I am seeking self-care and replenishment.
BCR: I’ve read Falling Upward and have been trying to undertake some of that same self-care and growth so that I can grab hold of my own second half of life. In looking at your work, I’m trying to imagine families undertaking that kind of transformative work together in the coming out process. I count them lucky to have a guide in your books, in having someone show where the brush has been cleared and a path exists.
Thanks for your time. I hope you enjoy your visit in Roanoke, and that we grow as a result.
For the full list of November 8-13 events or to register for the November 11 conference, visit www.hearttoheartva.com. ★