When I was seventeen, one of my best friends pulled me and another friend in to a closet. This best friend gathered all of their courage and bared their soul to me and our other friend. This best friend shared that they believed they were gay.

After giggling about the irony of our location (a closet) our other friend and I hugged this best friend, thanked this best friend for sharing their heart with us and told this best friend that we loved them very much.

And our friendship resumed just as it was before.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a pivotal moment in my life.

Until that moment, every opinion I had about “The Gays” had come from other people (most of whom had never met a gay person in their life).

All of my knowledge and understanding of homosexuality came from someone else’s opinion or someone else’s perspective of the world.

It is easy to think we know it all when the things we “know” are decided from afar.

Nearly fifteen years have passed since that day in the closet. A lot of life has happened, a lot of people and stories have happened. I have learned a lot, seen a lot, read a lot in that time.

And here’s the thing.

I am not going to tell you what I believe about homosexuality. Nor am I going to tell you what you should believe. That is not what is important here.

What I am going to say, and what I want to shout from the rooftops, is that until we have been a good friend to a homosexual (or any other version of different from us), until we have shared meals and tears, until we have swapped stories and prayers, until we have truly walked alongside a person different from ourselves,

we do not get to have a soapbox.

We do not get to preach that sermon.

We do not get to announce what is or isn’t about that person, place or thing.

On that fateful day in the closet, as I watched my friend shake with fear of rejection and judgement over their confession, I had the option to opinionate, I had the option to reject or I had the option to receive.

This week, as I held the hand of my dear cousin, as I witnessed all that cancer has done to her body and her brain, as I hugged her wife and kissed both of their beautiful faces, I was reminded again of that day in the closet and all that has developed in my heart since then.

I am not going to tell you what I believe about homosexuality. And I am not going to tell you what you should believe. That is not what is important here.

I am just going to suggest that we be quick to love and slow to judge. That we ask more questions and offer less opinions. That we hug first and decide later.

We live in a hurting world.. A broken and devasted world. But love heals broken. And hugs do too.

And life is more fluid than a label. We are so much more alike than different. We all need love. We all need each other.

So let’s change the conversation. Here and now. We have the power to do that. We have the choice.

Love is generous. Generosity does not leave that room for judgement.

So here’s to stepping off our soapboxes. And sitting down at our tables.

May we share a meal and many hugs with each other, with all who need our love.

This article originally appeared on ifthoumayest.

Echo Vetter

I love books and trails and road trips. Writing has helped me heal a broken heart and reclaim the identity I lost to a long walk through postpartum depression. I have a deep and abiding appreciation for authenticity, simplicity and story. I am learning that life is best lived around the table and under a blanket of grace. I married my high school sweetheart when I was nineteen. Today we homeschool our four children in Nashville, TN.