Faith and Loss: What the recent policy changes of LDS church have meant for me…

Like many others around me, I was left dismayed and hurt by the policy changes made by the LDS church this past weekend.  I can’t claim to have been shocked, though I sincerely wish that I could.

I was raised in the LDS church in Utah, though shortly after my confirmation my family became inactive. Knowing that I was part of the LGBTQIA community and feeling largely unwelcome and unwanted by the church, I stayed away for over two decades.

Then almost five years ago, I decided to try again.  The church had stopped being quite so vehemently and almost violently anti-LGBTQIA, and I thought that perhaps I could find a place for myself within the church once more.  Maybe my presence (and the presence of those like me) now being treated more kindly within the church would help make it easier for the youth growing up in the church who were realizing they were different, wondering where they fit in, and scared of being rejected by their church and by their families.  With not a small amount of fear, but a great deal of support from my LDS friends and family, I walked through the doors of my local ward on an Easter Sunday, and returned to being an active member.

My ward surprised me in all the best of ways.  They showed me kindness and acceptance; not just to me, but also to my partner, though she isn’t Christian.  People reached out to me, extended a hand of friendship, and helped me to feel comfortable and welcome.  I really thought things were changing — albeit slowly — but they were changing.  I had hope that I could embrace my faith and the church without the fear, intolerance and even hate that I’d known when I was young.

After the policy changes were confirmed by church leadership on Saturday morning, I spent most of the day and evening listening and watching as pain unfolded among friends and loved ones all around me.

I spent hours throughout Saturday and Sunday, and even today, comforting many. First, it was trying to convince a young friend not to take her own life amidst her overwhelming pain and fear, who is now terrified someone will find out she identifies as LGBTQIA, and wonders what will happen to her when they do.  So far, I’m very thankful to say, she hasn’t taken her life.  Then, I read about a friend who was kicked out of her home by her parents because of the policy changes, even though she might be losing her job in a few days.

My heterosexual family, friends, and loved ones are struggling through what I can only describe as a crisis of faith. They have said, “This can’t be right…,” or “This has to be a bad joke.  Surely something will be done to reverse this…,” and even “It makes no sense… it goes against all the progress that has been made…”  as they wrestle with what their conscience tells them is right versus what the policy changes say.   While they pray, they are trying to figure out where their place is now, feeling torn between their church and their loved ones who are LGBTQIA.

I thought very long and hard about what the changes meant for me and my future within the church, and I grieved the loss that I knew was inevitable.

This last Sunday, I went to church with my pagan wife at my side. I gave hugs to friends, and tried to console one sweet friend in particular  who attends my ward. She has a gay daughter, and seemed to perceive my presence in the ward these past five years as hope that her child might find peace in the church.  When she found out why I was there, she burst into tears.

Turning in my letter of resignation was my decision to save us all the trouble, hassle and stress of a now mandatory disciplinary council. You see, my partner of 12 years and I finally got legally married just over a week ago, on our anniversary of Halloween. We were celebrating that I would now have health insurance, among other things. For wanting the safety and recognition of legal marriage, I have been branded apostate by my church.

To his credit, the Bishop was very kind about the whole matter. He accepted my letter without argument and with tears in his eyes, all the while telling me that he hoped I would still feel welcome to come and listen any time. He told me that I am loved by the ward, and that they still want to be there for me. Finally, he conveyed his hope that I didn’t feel judged.

I replied that it was rather hard not to feel judged, but that I wasn’t taking it personally – at least not from the ward. I told him that I am still living my beliefs and my faith, and still wish to be there and be of service for the many friends I’ve made in the ward. They have always been very kind to my wife and myself, and I will always be grateful for that.

On the whole, it went about as well as it could.

For my own part, I could shrug it off, as I’m sadly accustomed to this type of treatment from growing up in Utah. But, my heart is grieving for the lives that have been and will be lost over this policy change, and for the families that are and will be torn apart. That is what has me gutted; what I find to be not only cruel but unconscionable actions against innocent minors, families of LGBTQIA Mormons, and LGBTQIA members.

In the end, I still have my faith and beliefs; I’m not resigning those. I am keeping what is of God. I am only resigning the parts that are of man, and my belief is that man is fallible.

To those of you that might take issue with that last statement of belief, Mormons and the Church of Latter Day Saints strenuously reject any official doctrine of infallibility as papish, idolatrous nonsense. As the old adage goes: “Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but don’t really believe it; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but don’t really believe it.”  On Saturday, I think many of us began to believe it, or at the very least allow for the possibility, once more.

My body is amazing.

This woman’s body isn’t the only thing that is amazing.  Her courage, her voice, her strength, her intellect…just HER.

Reblogging from Villainy Loveless…

My body is amazing..

Can You Find The Silver Lining?

I haven’t posted here in a while.  There’s been a lot going on, birthdays, graduations, travels, school concerts and soon dance recitals – mixed in with the other multitudes of minutia that make up life (VA appointments, errands, paying bills – you know what I mean).    And I do have things to share about some of those experiences – but they’re still….taking form and finding the right words to write.

So while that continues to gel, I’m going to take a risk.  I’m going to be blunt about something I almost never talk about, not unless you’re part of a very treasured handful of people.  But maybe my sharing it can help give some solid strength to my shaky legs as I travel this path of healing.  And maybe, just maybe, it can help someone else if I share it.  Even if it’s only to know they’re not the only out there – because in the depth of the dark night when you’re battling against your darkest self – you feel very much alone.  Even when you’re not.

For a longer time than I care to admit to, I’ve dealt with various forms of self-harm and self-abuse.  From purposefully starving myself and denying food until even my body gave up and no longer recognized what ‘hungry’ meant.  To actively seeking to cause myself pain.  In very specific and purposeful ways, with the sole intention being to punish myself.  I still fight with it.

Sometimes the punishment was for things I could point at and say ‘I said this’ or ‘I did that’ or ‘I thought “x.”‘  And I’d use those reasons to justify why I deserved it.  Why I deserved not just the pain I was inflicting on myself, but every bad thing that had or ever could happen to me.  I deserved every last bit of it – and none of the good.  A lot of times, I didn’t even need a reason.  My existence was reason enough that I deserved every bit of pain and punishment I could inflict.

No, I’m not a cutter.  I don’t do anything that leaves marks or scars that can be seen (not past a handful of hours).  And chances are – even if you saw me just seconds after I finished  – you still wouldn’t see anything.  I choose the most sensitive and secret parts to inflict the greatest amounts of pain and punishment on.  Let’s just leave it at that, shall we?  I’m not going to go into any details on what I do, that’s not the point here, and I don’t want to give anyone else who is struggling any ideas on things they have or haven’t tried.

Here’s the thing, if you’ve never experience the need – yes, need – to self-harm, you can’t understand the compulsion, drive, urge, very nearly obsession that takes over your brain until you follow through.  And often times, it’s an escalation thing.  One outlet might work for a while, but you get used to it, so you have to find a new way to inflict pain, or a way to intensify it, to get the same, if very temporary, relief.  And it’s an insidious thing.  It sneaks up on you, even when you think you’re strong and doing well.  It attacks when you’re alone, when you’re vulnerable, when you’re not looking.  This graphic below gives a little insight into the cyclic nature of it:

self_harm_diagram

 

I’m very lucky and very blessed.  I have a wonderful inner circle of supportive and loving people who do everything they can to support me, as I battle to end this cycle.  It’s beyond difficult for me to fathom why they do this.  Why they care so much, why they love me so much, why it matters what happens if it’s happening to me.

When I’m at my strongest and healthiest, I may not understand or think I deserve all they give me, but I accept it and am grateful for it.  When I’m at my most vulnerable and sincerely fighting the urge to inflict very real physical pain on myself almost on a heartbeat by heartbeat basis…I have trouble even accepting it.  I don’t deserve it (in my perception of reality – a flawed perception, I understand that on a strictly logical basis, but there it is – logic has no hand in this reality).  I don’t deserve the love, the concern, the support, the tremendous generosity of these so very loving people.   I want to hide from them.  I want to disappear.  I want to become the nothing that I feel like I am.

I’m trying to help you understand the very warped reality, the darkness that my mind lives in during these times, even while I realize that if you haven’t been there – you’ll never fully comprehend the starkness and desperation of it.

Despite all of this, those special few have never abandoned me to my inner demons.  Despite not always understanding.  Despite the heartache that I know I have caused them at the thought of some of what I’ve done.  They have stood by me, and forgiven me time and again – even when I couldn’t forgive myself.  Even as I’ve stumbled and tripped along my way to fixing what is broken within me, to finding a healthy me under it all.   And because of this, I’ve come lightyears from where I once was.

I stumbled again last night.  I was cruel to myself, and I caused myself physical pain.  Not nearly as cruel, not nearly as much pain as I’ve been known to do at my worst.  After  fighting and fighting I gave in, because I was exhausted.  I was tired, and tired of the fight and wanted so badly for the quiet and the relief that usually comes from surrendering.  And after it was all over I was in tears, because that relief never came.  I’d lost that battle.  And for nothing.

But today, with a clearer head, something occurred to me that I need to try to remember more often than I do.  Often times we’re told ‘don’t look back, you’re not going that way’.  And for a good deal of situations, that’s true.  BUT…but…sometimes we do need to look back.  Not to wallow in our past, but to remind ourself just how far we’ve come already – when it feels like we still have so very far to go and don’t have the strength to keep going.  There was a time that I inflicted pain on myself on a daily basis – sometimes multiple times a day or for entire days without rest.

Even counting last night’s stumble, in the past year I’ve only given in maybe a handful of times – in an entire year!  Put into that kind of perspective – I’ve come so very far!!  I may not be where I want to be yet.  But it truly makes me take another look at how far is left to the goal of health, versus how far I’ve already come just to get where I am now.

Now, I know what a healthy mindset is, and can maintain one for long periods of time.  I know the mindset I want to have, who I want to be and am working to become.  And I realized something else.  In not gaining the relief, even temporary as it would have been, the cycle is breaking down.  I may have given in, but it doesn’t mean I’ve failed.  Rather it showed me how far I’ve come, and that my work to fix myself is not for nothing.  I may not be fixed – yet – but the changes are taking effect.  Some of it is beginning to sink in – if slowly and only subconsciously – that maybe I do have a small bit of value.  It has to be, or the relief would have come.

I have no trouble seeing the body as sacred and to be honored and treated gently – for others.  The idea of anyone I love and care about harming themselves as I have done, is horrifying to me.  And yet…that horror is not there when I look at myself.  Someday, I hope it will be.  I’m working to try and see and honor the sacred within myself.  To see my existence as something to be celebrated, not punished.  To see value and worth in myself.  And when I can’t, I try to remember what those I love and trust have said that they see in me.  I rely on their faith and belief in me, when my own faith and belief in myself falters.

It’s been said that you can’t ‘live on borrowed light.’  And you can’t.  But sometimes you need someone else to light your candle when you can’t find that first spark yourself.  Sometimes you need someone else to believe in you and see value and worth in you, before you can see it in yourself.  Sometimes, before you can love yourself, you need someone else to love you even in your broken and flawed self, to know that even you deserve love.  I’ve been so very lucky to have not just one, but a handful of dear people, that have been willing to do just that for me.  Even when I stumble and fall, they still love me, they still support me, and they remind me that it’s not the end of the world.

Losing one battle, does not lose the war, as long as you regroup and fight again.  So, a reminder to myself, and a reminder to anyone else out there fighting their own battles, don’t give up.  Rest, if you need to.  Heal, if you need to.  And then pick up your sword and fight again.  Remind yourself how far you’ve already come, to give you the strength to keep going.

MB-MA123_LRG

And in my copious spare time I….wait what?!

So, a short while back, a good friend challenged many of us to blog about what we do in our “spare” time, with a link back to her blog:

http://accordingtohoyt.com/2013/05/01/in-my-copious-spare-time/

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different answers to “What do you do?”

Some answers include:

  1. Keep Micki alive
  2. Writer
  3. Slush Editor
  4. Beta Reader
  5. Jill of all trades
  6. Household CEO/CFO

The other fun hiccup to all of this, is that I am both a daysleeper (which means I don’t keep anything close to resembling normal hours) and that between Rheumatoid Arthritis and some other health quirks – I have some limitations that most people don’t have, and that even I don’t like to admit to.

Some of you might have heard of  “Spoon Theory”.  In a nutshell, it’s that:  everyday, each of us is given a set number of spoons to complete all of our tasks for the day.  A typical healthy person has a lot of spoons, and can accomplish a lot of things per spoon.  A not so healthy person like me, has not only fewer spoons, but it costs more spoons to do even the simple tasks.  There are some days – getting out of bed and interacting with people – maxes me out.  There are some days just getting out of bed maxes me out.  And on better days, I get more done.  (Don’t we all?!).

In any typical day for me, I get up in the mid-late afternoon/early evening, depending on how late in the morning I finally crawled into my bed, and start with three daily journals.  Two are of some affirmations I’m working on.  I’m not the kind of person that can look themselves in a mirror and repeat a chant 20-25 times in a day without feeling like an utter idiot.  I admire the people who can, but it’s not me.  So instead, I write them out – once a day, every day – to try to begin my day on a positive note.  I also write “daily pages” longhand, stream of consciousness.  I used to write hard and fast 3 pages.  Day in, day out.  Lately, I’ve been allowing myself to be a bit more lax on that after managing to maintain the habit for a bit over a year – so on busy days, if it’s half a page or a page, that’s ok…another day might be four pages or even seven…and that’s ok too.  From there it’s processing my way through the blogs I keep up with, emails waiting on answers, social media, taking care of any items Micki needs handled, processing the mail and bills and budget – all that kind of fun stuff.  I try to blog once a week (yes, I’ve been remiss recently, I’m trying to fix that). Thanks to 24 hr markets – I usually do my shopping at about 3am or so.  It’s lovely and quiet and no people to annoy you – bliss!

On VA days – I have to be up during the daytime…and sometimes have my entire day spent at the VA Hospital.  If you’ve ever been to the VA Hospital in Detroit – you understand why.  VA days, Sundays, and any other day where there’s an appointment that requires me to be up and active during “normal business hours”…are days I know in advance I’m going to be looking at 36-48 hours awake, as a given.  They’re long days.  And I usually crash when I’m finally able to crawl into my bed after that.

Some days and weeks are full of this kind of activity and eventually it all catches up with me and I get….cranky.  Which is when all the cats hide, the dogs sleep and Micki if she must talk to me usually prefaces it with an offer of either a slurpee or chocolate.  And asking if I’ve had any aleve that day, or do I need to go back to sleep?

One exception to all this, is traveling.  When I go on a trip I know I need to alter my daysleeper ways, and I plan appropriately to shift my sleep schedule as best I can.  If I’m lucky, time zones conspire in my favor so that I don’t have to shift my schedule very much at all.

This month, I have a lot going on.  In this past week, I’ve had birthday, two school concerts, VA appts, my own dental appointment, and various errands that required me up and about while the evil daystar was high in the sky.  Next week is a brief lull in the storm – but deceiving – VA appts begin again on Thursday, Plotmongers on Saturday, Mother’s Day, the VA again on Monday, and then I leave for California a week from Thursday – to watch my cousin graduate from college!  (The best excuse yet, for shifting around my schedule!).  Once I return, there’s more birthdays, more VA appts, Memorial Day and a Dance Concert – all before June 1st!

Add to those highlights the usual – keeping up the house, taking care of the furkids (2 dogs, 3 cats, and the “not-our-cats” who come by for a meal), making sure Micki took her meds, remembered her appointments, and any other “as needed”, catching up with family, friends and co-workers (other writers – who else would keep us sane?!?).  Oh…and yes…reading the slush, reading the beta pieces (which I still owe some folks), working on one or both of two novels in progress and a third piece that hasn’t decided how long it wants to be yet.  Doing crits for Plotmongers.  And the general detritus of life.

Because all the many hats I wear are rather “invisible” jobs – it’s easy for people to think I’m not busy and ask for a favor or two.  After all, I’m…”only a homemaker/housewife”…to some.  And a writer – who “always has nothing but time – after all how hard is it to write”.  And I try to accommodate people where I can.  But sometimes, I have to say “no, sorry.  can’t help you.”  You’d be amazed how many people get upset at that.  “But you do nothing all day!”  No, I do nothing you SEE.  You don’t live with me and you don’t talk to me on even a close to daily basis – so you have nothing to judge what I do and don’t do all day by!  Even a list like this blog – there’s stuff I’m going to leave out, because it’s personal.

On top of this, is the stuff I want to do..you know…in my spare time:

  •  The ever growing to-read pile of books – from books on philosophy to novels
  • the window I’m supposed to etch and turn into a mirror
  • the various honey-do tasks like sorting and boxing the library, Micki’s media room, and the kitchen (just for a start).
  • Begin to teach myself violin.
  • Eventually get the piano keyboard replaced and the piano tuned so that I actually play more often.
  •  Catch up on the shows I want to see and have recorded, but missed because the TV hasn’t been physically turned on in weeks – TV what’s that?

Oh yeah…can’t forget:

  • the learning how to format ebooks in different styles that I HAVE to do – even if I want to strangle the author of a certain style guide that shall remain nameless.
  • Working on making some more pieces of jewelry.
  • Penning down any number of other story/novel/book ideas that fly into and out of my head.
  • Finish the “Letters” book – no, I didn’t forget – I’m just behind as usual (you know who you are).

And then there’s….:

  • Learn all the formats for ebooks.
  • Put out the roughly half a dozen completed shorts before the year is over
  • And if I’m feeling really ambitious – maybe even put them into a kind of omnibus type of thing, so that people can buy all of them in one – rather than individually

It doesn’t sound like much, I know.  It doesn’t even sound like much to me.  But the spoons, they just haven’t been there.  There’s been too much heartache and grief for those I care about, where offering them comfort was more important than whatever to-do item fell on my desk that day.  And there’s been my own heart sludge that gummed up the works as well (emotional here, not physical).  And emotions, stuff of the heart – it eats spoons like nothing else ever does.  I can’t be the only one to have discovered that.

But, that’s life, it’s up and downs and spoon feasts and famines.  And one day I’ll be entirely caught up…or not.  And one of these years I’ll get everything on my wish list done…or not.  And all of that’s just fine!

Who’d Have Ever Believed?!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, marked exactly one year, since I began re-attending church.  I’ve kept my return very quiet, even among my friends, because even I have been unsure where it might lead or even if it would last.  After a year, I guess it’s time to be a bit more open.  Since sharing this story does identify some of my family, and I haven’t asked their permission to do so, I’ll only identify them by an initial – our of respect for their privacy.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS or Mormon church – as many know it.  My mother came over from Scotland to Los Angeles on a green card, and converted to LDS.  I don’t know her exact conversion story, only the rough time period and where.  We attended church fairly regularly through my Primary years.  I do know that when we were struggling a great deal, when I was just a toddler, the church helped us a great deal.  Those struggles ended when we rented a home with my godmother (the rent on our apartment and my godmothers apartment had gone up at the same time, and it was thought a handy way to save money if we could make it work.)

I can remember once waiting for her in a kind of lobby with a kind woman while she was in the temple (I couldn’t have been more than four years old – if that).  Although I only have the one memory.  I’m not sure when she stopped attending the temple or why.

Near the time of my baptism, I found out that a friend of mine, the daughter of the then bishop of our ward, had been molested by the husband of one the primary teachers.  I told my mother, as I’d been taught to do.  She talked to the Bishop.  The man was kept under watch by two other elders during church services.  To my mother’s knowledge that was the extent of anything being done.  The man in question had a long record with the local police for …troubles.  My mother did not feel that she could trust me to be safe while she was away from me, and after my confirmation we stopped attending.  (This is the official reason, though in a moment of unusual bluntness a few years later, she also admitted to “not liking who you were becoming” – meaning me.  I’m not sure if it was because of her vehement feminist views, or that my behavior smacked to much of indoctrination – she’d call it brain washing.)

You might imagine that life in Utah, as inactive members is not exactly…easy.  Couple this with my changing schools the next year to a private Catholic school.  The only Mormon in a school filled with kids that felt they were discriminated against daily.  I was the “whipping boy.”  Fortunately for me, my godmother is Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior of her convent before she left.  This meant that in the majority of cases, I understood their beliefs better than they themselves did.  I never pulled less than an A in religion class, and even read in the mass that was held every thursday.  My final solution was to tell any of my taunters that when they could understand their own religion as well as I understood theirs, then, maybe I would discuss mine with them.

Two years at a Catholic private school, and a year at a Lutheran private school, and many….difficulties later, I was back in public school.  The friends I’d once had, no longer had the time of day for me.  I’d been gone to long – and besides, we weren’t active – so we were horrible people, they didn’t want to associate with me.  My friends became the other misfits and the wedge between myself and the church widened.  I chastised a girl who was saying how bad another girl was for skipping seminary one day, by exclaiming that by that rule I must be the devil himself – I hadn’t been to church since my confirmation and leaving the lunch room.  I’m told she shut up pretty quickly after I left.

By the time I graduated high school, I was also no longer identifying myself as Mormon.  It was a gradual thing.  At first, in middle school,  I only claimed to be Christian and would not identify which denomination.  By the end of high school I no longer even claimed that.  If asked, I self identified as Pagan.  I was sick of the discrimination, the double standards and the hypocrisy that had run rampant through my life.  I wanted nothing to do with the Mormon church as I knew it.  You couldn’t pay me to admit to being Mormon.  Mind you, my beliefs on Christ himself, never left…but I wanted nothing to do with any man made construct around him.

I was able to blend my beliefs about Christ quite easily with what I learned about paganism in all it’s various forms.  I did not jump directly to paganism.  I explored and learned about every religion I could get my hands on.  Attending Catholic mass with my godmother, attending the Protestant church, learning of the BaHai, Buddism, Hindu, Judaism, Islam – you name it…if I could find information, I read it.

Understandably, my self cobbled belief system set me apart as an outsider, never mind being lesbian or bi.  I joined the LDS sorority in University, because the majority of my friends were there, and you were not required to be LDS to join.  Lambda Delta Sigma, Delta Omega Chapter.  I was even an officer in my chapter, and received an award for best exemplifying the ideal of Scholarship.  I enjoyed my time with them.

I removed myself from the the chapter however, when I was appointed an officer of the campus lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered/straight student alliance.  I had already experienced prejudice in high school because I’d identified as Bi, when asked.  My reasoning being I hadn’t dated anyone, so wasn’t going to rule anything out until I had reason to.  I didn’t want to make my sorority sisters uncomfortable and chose to leave before they could reject me.  At this time it was not uncommon to send gays to reprogramming camps.  I was all too familiar with those horror stories and would do anything to avoid having to experience them.

I left Utah and moved to Michigan, in October of 1998.  Shortly after moving there, my Aunt R, who I’d managed to get back in touch with (a far longer story), told me that I had family in California and put me in touch with a cousin I hadn’t known I had – L.  Life being what it is, our correspondence would continue in sporadic bursts for the next 13 years.  L knew of my, unconventional beliefs.  Yet, despite what I would come to realize her beliefs and understanding were of what I believed (far different from my actual beliefs) she was always kind to me and treated me with compassion and acceptance.  Never asking me to change or pressing the church on me in any way.

Circumstances conspired in such a way that in the fall of 2011, we wound up talking a great deal more than was usual.  Among other things, I explained better just what it was that I believed at the time.  In a discussion one night of one of the novels I’m working on, I was discussing some of the behind-the-scenes information on the book – what the setting was, what the rules of the universe the book was set in were, how I envisioned things playing out in the story in an overarching sense.  L commented that a part of the of what I was describing was remarkably akin to Mormon doctrine.  Her comment caught me up short.

I was not completely oblivious to Mormon beliefs.  But I had reason to question the validity of some of what I’d been told about doctrine.  However, I’d had no one I trusted to be able to discuss it with.  For one, no one around me was Mormon.  And trying to have such a discussion with anyone who wasn’t – by the time you finished explaining Mormonism 101, you were too tired to launch into your own questionings and likely had even lost the thread of what your original thought had been at the beginning of the discussion.  In short, if you didn’t already understand mormonism, there was no point in even trying to have the conversation.

I had never had reason not to trust L, but the circumstances that lent themselves to our getting to know one another on a far deeper than surface level, had increased my sense of safety.  I tentatively explained that I knew the correlation to mormon doctrine that I thought was veiled in the story.  Certainly no one before her had caughtened on to it.  I asked if she would mind if I occasionally discussed the church and my frustrations and confusions with her.  That I meant no disrespect to the church or her beliefs, but there were things I was unsure about – and I had no one else I felt safe to discuss them with.  She very kindly agreed.

My cousin is a dear woman, one of the kindest I’ve ever known.  She gave me a new way of being able to see the church.  Not only that, she gave me a new way to view being a member of the church.  She redeemed it for me, made it safe again, and even helped me heal and reconcile many of my differences with the church.  This was not a quick process.

A few months of many discussions later, I had not only confessed my secret (that I had still hidden deep within, a small but scared and scarred belief in the church that had not been beaten out of me) but had also started to reread scriptures on my ipad.  A few chapters a day.  The inevitability of these many discussions, that I can not begin to do justice to the otherworldly essence of, culminated in my watching General Conference, and steeling all of my courage to walk back in the doors of my assigned ward on Easter Sunday of last year.

I had never requested my name to be removed from the books.  It took the church a long time to find me after I moved to Michigan – over ten years – but they did.  And when they had, I was assigned a ward and received a handful of mailings from them.  I knew where I was assigned.

Even though I felt at the time, that I was literally risking everything, I felt the need to return to church.  If I felt unwelcome there, so be it, I could choose not to return again.  I prayed that my wife would not leave me for it – a serious fear at the time – and I returned.

The conversations with my cousin didn’t stop with my going back to church.  Heck, even now, while they’ve tapered down a great deal, they haven’t stopped. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates through this journey, and always with the unasked for reassurance that if I couldn’t continue down this path – she would still support and love me 100%.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her for that, among so many other things.

I wasn’t alone in my fears when I returned.  My cousin was very protective and terrified for me, the day I walked back through church doors.  Afraid that someone might be unkind or openly homophobic towards me.  My wife was terrified that my return would lead me to leave her.

All our fears, it turns out, were for naught.  I was more than blessed in the ward I was assigned to.  They have been nothing but accepting and welcoming of me – even of my wife the handful of times she’s attended sacrament meeting or an activity with me.  My wife has not left me, and there is no danger of her leaving me either, nor I leaving her.  Rather, we have in some ways grown even closer, even as we have made some sacrifices for my beliefs.  This Easter Sunday, marked a year from my return to being an active member, and my life has changed in some ways I could never have foreseen and would never have believed.

Indeed, even a year and a half ago I never would have believed any  of the above would have ever happened.  And if you’d told me I’d return to church – I’d have laughed at you.  What a difference a year can make!  It’s been a year of risks, of fear, of courage and of blessings.  And while it’s been far from easy, it’s definitely been worth it.  I’ve become a better person, a more authentic person, for it.  And yes, even though I still get scared, I still push through the fear and more often than not – find the fears were unfounded.

That is the short version of the story, anyway. 🙂

 

 

Too See Yourself Through the Eyes of Another

For about a year or so now, I’ve been following quite a few blogs.  Very notably I’ve been following the blog of Jennifer Pastiloff.  A remarkable woman of profound courage and honesty, a brilliant talent with words, a manifestation yogi, and an inspiration.

In one of her blogs, posted February 23, on Positively Positive, she ended her blog with a request of her readers, her Tribe.  The request seemed an easy one, yet I’ve been unable to face it and actually put words to the page for almost a month now.  Even though the idea of it has haunted my brain on a near daily basis.  Today though, I did.  The request was this:  Please post below a description of yourself or a letter to yourself written in the voice of someone who loves you.

One of the first challenges was to pick which voice to write it in.  My lovely wife would seem an obvious choice, however, I’ve often discounted her words as being biased.  I knew I’d have to write it in the voice of someone that I know I can’t argue with.  Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I haven’t tried.  I am me, after all.  But this is the one person, besides my darling wife, who knows ALL of my secrets – good and bad – and who still found worth in me.  How, I still don’t know, but she did.  The voice of someone who’s helped me on many profound levels and to whom I owe an immense debt of gratitude and love. And while I know I can never fully repay her for all she’s done and does, I still try.

I know she doesn’t follow the same blogs I do, so the chances that she would see the letter I wrote to myself in her voice were beyond microscopic.  So…to thank her, and to let her know that for all my quarrelsome nature, I have indeed been paying attention, and I have been listening…here’s the letter…

Dear Doll,

There have been those in your life who’ve abused and misused you. And instead of getting angry with them, you tried to figure out what you did wrong and took on the blame yourself. It wasn’t your fault, the horrors you endured. If I could wrap you in a quilt and hold you until the memories went away and your self-worth was restored to you I would. One day, you’ll remember your worth and value are infinite. You are enough just the way you are. You are good enough, strong enough, smart enough, kind enough – you are enough – more than enough. You are a lion that’s been told for so long that it’s a sheep, that you’ve forgotten how to roar. Your faith is a beautiful thing to witness, and when it falters, I have faith enough in you to carry you until you find your way again. I will do anything I can to help you remember your worth and who you are, and I will celebrate with you when that day comes. You’ve come so far this past year. Lightyears from where anyone could have ever predicted. And you have so much still ahead of you.

I’ve told you these things before, but I’m not sure they’re sinking in. I think you are a beautiful young woman who is facing many very hard challenges, and I want to help if I can. You are my hero, and you will want to know why…Because of all you have endured and yet you still believe that you matter (even if it’s just a fledgling belief). Because you care about people in the world that you don’t even know – you pay for their groceries behind you in line, you send money to help the kids of a stranger without a second thought just because you found out that they were struggling, you write love letters of encouragement to people you’ve never met and never will. Because you have undying love for your family that you barely know but would do anything for. Because you have a knowledge and insight at age 35 that I am still trying to attain. Because of your ability to see people’s shortcomings and still be nonjudgmental and loving towards them. Because you put everyone before yourself.

You give me strength. You spoil me and at times I don’t know what to do with you! You are exceptionally kind and exceptionally good – even if you don’t see it. I am very thankful to have you in my life. You are too good to be true – at times I’m convinced you’re an angel. And as much as you tell me I don’t have to thank you, the gratitude that swells in me for you and all you’ve done and do – is so immense that I have no words to express it properly. So please, don’t argue with me when I thank you. I’m grateful you’re my family AND my friend. I love you for who you are, for your heart and your immense spirit. Nothing you do can ever change that, and you can’t disappoint me – so stop worrying about that and chase your dreams. I’m proud of you.

I love you as big as the sky.

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

Friends are an amazing thing, aren’t they?  They see you and your own special brand of insanity, and they recognize something in it.  They see a little of their own weirdness in you and say – “hey, you’re weird…I LIKE you!”  Given enough time, trust, and adventure – some of these friends even become your family of choice.  They may not be blood, but some of them are closer than blood.

When we’re really lucky we find some of our blood family, who are also our friends, that we find if we got to choose our family, we’d choose them all over again.  And I’ve certainly been extraordinarily lucky.  But you’ve heard me go on about my family already.  So tonight I want to talk about friends.

Not all friends become family of choice, obviously.  We have all kinds of friends usually.  There’s convention friends, work friends, school and childhood friends, university friends, church friends, hobby friends.  You name it you can find a kind of friend for it.  Then there’s the really special friends – the inner circle, the coven, the relatives that the stork goofed on.  And these folks, they’re really truly extraordinary.

Sometimes it’s a development of shared experiences, slowly built over years.  Sometimes it develops almost over night.  And not only can you not imagine your life without these folks in it – you don’t know how you ever made it this long without them in the first place.  They’re kids become your nieces and nephews – even if you have no actual siblings.

They’re there for you when you don’t know which way to turn.  The guard your secrets like their own.  They give you advice – asked for or not – because they care and want to help.  They’ll smack the back of your head and call you a putz (or worse) when you’re being obtuse.  They’ll say “I told you so” even as they throw you a life line and help you put the pieces back together.  And you’ll thank them for it every single time.  And if you’re a good friend, you’ll do the same for them.

Sometimes friendships blow up in spectacular and dramatic ways.  Sometimes they die quietly through gradual persistent neglect.  If we’re truly fortunate, they last.  They last through all the ups and downs, the fights, the heart breaks, the celebrations, the parties.  Through the quiet times, the fears and the follies.  They last, in short, for a lifetime.

I’ve been truly blessed with the friends I have in my life.  And nearly every day I find a new reason, or something happens to remind me anew, just how very lucky I am to have each and every one of them.  How grateful I am for them.  I don’t say it nearly often enough.

So for all my dear friends, thank you.  Thank you for letting me be a part of your life, and for being a part of mine.

And for the special, sacred, inner circle … thank you.  Thank you for being there, for everything you do.  Thank you for adopting me into your family and for letting me Shanghai you into mine. For being my family of the heart and spirit (as well, sometimes, as blood).  Thank you.

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