I would like to start with a recent post from John. It was the highlight of my week last week, and brings me peace and comfort now as I think of it again. (I sent this to Scott's family as well and his step-mom thought it was awesome!)
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I thought, I can't do that... I'm not allowed to speak in Church. And the Spirit's response was, "Just ask your bishop." I immediately imagined the bishop saying no. But the Spirit said, "Just ask him."
So I got dressed, got ready, and left a bit earlier than I usually do. As I rode my bike, I was composing a speech in my head, how I was going to ask him. And the Spirit said, "Don't do that. Just ask him."
So I arrived at the Church just as Bishop B. was finishing a meeting with his counselors. I sat down outside his office to wait. Brother C. stepped out of his office, and I asked if I could see the bishop for just thirty seconds.
I said to Bishop B., "I understand if you have to say no, but I want to know if it is OK for me to bear my testimony today."
Without any hesitation, he said, "I don't know of any reason why you would not be allowed to do that."
So I went into the chapel and found a seat. Instead of sitting in the middle of the back row as I usually do, I found a seat closer to the front and on the side, and I sat right next to the aisle so I would be able to get up more easily. I was going to be able to bear my testimony! Just thinking about it, I was already starting to weep. I got choked up trying to sing the opening hymn. I wept during the opening prayer.
I knew I was going to bear my testimony, but what was I going to say? I started to organize words in my mind. But the words weren't coming. I don't know how many of you have experienced the "stupor of thought" described in D&C 9:9, but that's what I had. I was trying to think of what story I was going to tell. And then I felt the Spirit again, saying simply, "Don't think about what you're going to say. You'll have the words you need to say in the moment you need them." So instead of thinking about what I was going to say, I just started to pray. And then the thought came into my mind with crystal clarity. This is a testimony. Just tell them what you know.
When the moment came, I got up and walked toward the podium. The bishopric all smiled at me. They just had the sweetest, kindest expressions on their faces.
It took me a moment to speak, to get over the emotion that was overcoming me. I began by telling them that I had asked that my name be removed from the records of the Church in 1986, after almost committing suicide. I told them I was gay, and that I had a partner with whom I will be celebrating our seventeenth anniversary soon, and that I love him very much and he loves me. Then I told them about that moment in August 2005 in Salt Lake City when the Spirit spoke to me so powerfully and undeniably, and reminded me that I had a testimony of the Church, how it confused me and made me angry at first, and how I had wanted to deny it and wrestled with it for months, but how the Spirit kept speaking to me so that I could not deny it, and then I started coming to Church in October 2005. And then I told them about their kindness, and what they had done for me, how Bishop M. had helped me. And then I told them what I know about the Church, about Joseph Smith, about the Book of Mormon, and about Jesus Christ. And then I thanked them for their many individual kindnesses to me over the years. And then I was done.
Bro. P. got up and called me his best friend, and he started talking about my faith, and my love for my parents, and my love for the scriptures. Later Sis. B. got up and told how, when I sang a solo musical number for the ward, she had never forgotten how she could hear my love for the Savior in my singing. When Bishop B. concluded by bearing his testimony, he added kind words of his own, and nodded and smiled down at me from the podium.
After Sacrament meeting ended, a crowd of people gathered around me, one after another hugging me, encouraging me, and telling me how much they loved me. All people who, at one time or another, had reached out to me in little ways over the last three years. All I could do was thank them and weep.
The ceiling of the sanctuary didn't fall in. Nothing exploded. Not one person reacted negatively. The entire ward just responded almost unanimously with pure, unreflective love. They just instinctively reached out to me with kindness and understanding.
After I got home from Church, I called my parents and told them what had happened, and we all wept tears of gratitude together.
When I arrived at choir rehearsal later in the afternoon, one by one members of the ward choir shook hands with me, hugged me, wanted to thank me for bearing testimony. We chatted easily, intimately and comfortably. It was like this barrier that once disconnected me from most members of my ward had suddenly been lifted. Once I was sort of a mystery, but now they understood. And in their understanding, there wasn't a trace of condemnation.
One sister mentioned a lesbian daughter. Another sister told me about a former ward member who died of AIDS.
I know this doesn't solve all my problems. I know this doesn't change some of the fundamental challenges of my life. But it does make me understand that there's a place where I can go where people are rooting for me. And there is a kind of clarity now, that makes me feel like I can breathe so much easier. I am so incredibly blessed.
Later this afternoon, after the choir rehearsal, I met with one of my home teachers. He expressed surprise. He couldn't get over the fact that he had observed not the slightest trace of negativity or homophobia. He expected something, but he saw nothing but love. I realize that so many others have had such different experiences, so I don't take my blessing for granted. I certainly had a very different experience not too long ago in my parents' ward in Utah. But I truly also believe that the Spirit is at work in the Church. I feel so privileged to be a part of it.