Kyle (a 21 year old gay man who is renting a room from me) and I planned to bear our testimonies today. Mama Dragon Kimberly Anderson specifically challenged Mama Dragons to do so during this past week as we were all grieving the news that there had been several suicides, some of which were children of mothers that were either in our group or known personally by members of our group.
Kyle and I attended a funeral on Friday for Stockton Powers. It was heart wrenching but beautiful and hopeful. There were so many people there, wearing rainbow ribbons and pins in support of Stockton and his family. Friends had traveled from California and Idaho and Arizona to be there.
I mentioned to Kyle the challenge from Kim in the mama dragon group, and he told me he had already been planning on doing that very thing in my ward on Sunday.
Saturday evening as I finished practicing the organ in the chapel for Sacrament meeting the next day, thoughts started running through my mind of things I could say. I came home and typed them up, crying as I did so. I knew I would cry when I spoke.
Sunday morning, Kyle and I went early so that I could practice and play prelude. I offered to sit in the congregation with him, but instead he chose to sit on the stand with me, hiding behind the organ. While I was playing prelude, a member of the bishopric came up to talk to the chorister, letting her know what he had planned for the month so that she could choose songs to go with the topics. He mentioned that he didn't know who was speaking the last Sunday. Then he turned to me and said, "Do you want to speak? I'll give you a topic. You'll have to be good."
Continuing to play the organ, knowing the plan that Kyle and I had to speak today lie ahead, I laughed and said "I haven't spoken in eleven years. And any topic you give me can be applied to what I strongly believe in, so you'll have to tell me what I can and can't say." We talked about it a bit more, but I needed to play and he needed to sit down for the meeting. Meanwhile, the new stake president walked in and sat on the stand. First he looked at me at the organ and said hello. I turned to Kyle and mouthed quietly, "Damn, that is the stake president!" A look of fear struck his face, probably mirroring my own.
After the opening hymn and the sacrament hymn, I climbed down from the organ bench and sat next to Kyle. He said "I'm still going to do it." I replied, "Then I am too." I asked Kyle if he wanted to go first or if he wanted me to. He said he didn't care. So finally I told him that I wanted him to go first and I was so nervous that I wanted to get it over with, so he better go soon.
After a couple of testimonies, he finally got up. He was calm. He told everyone that he is gay, that he came out 3 three years ago, and then he was abused by someone in his ward. He talked about Stockton's funeral, listing many of Stockton's awesome qualities, but also that he was gay. He talked about struggling so much that evening, after the funeral, that he asked for a priesthood blessing--something he hasn't done for several years. He talked about the peace he felt following the blessing and of God's love for him.
I planned to get up right after, but a teenage girl beat me to it. She mentioned how she wished her brother had been there today to hear Kyle's testimony. When she was done, I got up.
I said something jokingly(sorta) about the bishopric probably being nervous that I was getting up. Then I talked about Kyle, how he had adopted me as his mom, and what a blessing his testimony was to me. I mentioned an article in the newspaper about how youth suicides had tripled in Utah since 2007. About how teachers all have required suicide prevention training as part of recertification. I said that no matter who they are or how they identify or what they've done in their lives, whether they are straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, that God loves them and knows what it is in their hearts. I talked about being the advisor of a gay/straight alliance at Kearns High School, of how much I loved those kids, of how many of them did not feel loved by their families and desperately wanted to feel loved by their families.
I mentioned that since many changes had happened in our ward over the last 8 years, that some of them may not be aware of my situation, that they might not even know that I have five amazing children. I talked about Scott coming out over the pulpit in testimony meeting. I talked about feeling his mother's love for him that afternoon, hugging him and telling him it was from her. I mentioned how it became more difficult for our family to come to church, and that he had eventually resigned. But that he is still a wonderful father and man.
I talked about how Scott is really struggling lately for various reasons, and that the shooting in Orlando had been very difficult for him, that a couple of weeks ago when he and I were going to the courthouse to finish our divorce paperwork, I watched him struggle with panic attacks. That evening I cried and cried over his pain and struggles, worrying about him and wishing and wondering if there was more I could do. I also wondered why I was feeling this love and concern for him so strongly, because even though I did love him, I wasn't still in love with him. It occurred to me that maybe once again, I was feeling the emotions of his mother. That thought was confirmed, and then I said out loud, "Ok, Cheryl. Leave me alone! I need to calm down and get some rest." (The congregation chuckled.) I felt prompted to message his little sister and tell her of my experience, and then I was able to calm down and rest. I had my tonsils out the week before and crying and stressing out was not helping me feel better in the least.
I talked about how I know there are angels amongst us, that our forefathers and ancestors were around us, along with God and Christ, cheering us on and wanting us to be happy. I talked about that there is a place in this church for anyone who wanted to be there, and even if it didn't feel like it sometimes, that there would always be a place there, sitting next to me if needed.
I cried the entire time I spoke, and I saw people in the congregation smiling and crying as well. Kyle said he was also crying.
Afterward, many people came up on the stand to talk to us and thank us. To welcome Kyle to the ward and let him know he was welcome there. All three members of the bishopric thanked me, and I asked the one I had been talking to before the meeting if I had said anything out of line. He said no, that what I said was perfect. That it was the elephant in the room that needed to be talked about, but that hardly anyone wants to talk about. That it is a perspective that the people needed to hear.
The stake president was busy talking to other people who had gone up to greet him, so he and I didn't talk at all afterward. I will look forward to sometime being able to talk to him further. He is a fairly new stake president, that I don't know very well, and I'm not sure where he stands on this issue with our stake.
Later in relief society, an older lady shared with me that she had a gay sister, who had passed away last year. During the lesson, the daughter of another lady in our ward spoke up and said that later after church she and her husband were going to talk to their eight year old about finding a balance between loving and accepting LBGT, and understanding God's unchanging laws. I flinched a little bit. I hope that eight year old is not gay. But at least the conversation is happening. Yay for small victories.
So there it is, more or less. I can't remember exactly what I said. I was so nervous and emotional. But I do know that if even one soul, one life is better because of it, it was worth it.
Many other Mama Dragons also spoke in their Sacrament Meetings. Can you imagine these testimonies and tears and pleading for love happening all over that day? What a beautiful beautiful thought.