Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Post #3--Charity: Love Everyone

Ugh! I wish I could've thought of a less cheesy title for this post.

I would describe myself as a happy, jovial, generally optimistic person and I think those who know me best would agree.  I saw a comment from someone who read my first post in this series.  He was worried that I'm depressed.  While I appreciate the concern, I'm not at all depressed.  Like everyone I have my sad, difficult moments, but generally my life is really, really good and I'm quite content.  I realize that my last two posts and this one deal with some very trying moments, but these do not reflect the general quality of my life.  What my life is like is more accurately described by this post.  Thank you to everyone who is worried about me, but I'm seriously doing just fine.  That said, here's the last coming out post I wrote.  As with the previous two posts this one was also written for an audience familiar with Mormomism. 

There have been a number of times when I have given up on dating.  Trying to date women as a person attracted to men is very uncomfortable.  But throughout the years every time I decided to throw in the towel and completely stop dating I would have a spiritual experience that I would interpret to mean that I should continue dating, and so I would.  I often wondered why Heavenly Father would repeatedly tell me that I should try to date women when I was consistently so unsuccessful at it, but I couldn't deny the promptings, and so I kept trying. 

About a year and half ago I was extremely frustrated with my dating situation and I prayed fervently trying to figure out what I was supposed to do.  During a CES broadcast I received an unexpected answer--God was trying to teach me charity.  There are a number of ways that I have learned charity through dating, but I will just share just one.  Through my friend Allison I was introduced to LeAnne, a woman who lives in Utah.  We originally started talking with the intention of dating each other, but we never fell in love and just became good friends.  But through LeAnne Heavenly Father has once again showed me what true love is. 

LeAnne and I.  Isn't she a knockout?
I could tell story after story of people who have shared my burdens and let me talk about my problems.  But LeAnne, more than anyone else, really listens to me and asks deep, probing questions so that we can both understand things together.  A year ago I was traveling through Utah and I spent the day with LeAnne.  We were chatting and she asked me a very personal question about my experiences as a gay Mormon.  I was happy to answer.  When that conversation ended two hours later, I left feeling uplifted and edified.  LeAnne called me the next day and said, "You know what?  I have felt so good all day.  I felt the Spirit so strongly last night as we were talking and it has just carried over into today."  I agreed, and that often happens when we talk.  We have some of the most inspiring conversations I have ever had. 

A few weeks later I was having a really tough time and like a good friend LeAnne called me.  She had no idea that I'd been feeling so low, that I had been considering taking a sabbatical from church, and that I desperately needed to talk to someone.  We talked for 90 minutes and I told her everything that was going on.  She didn't judge me, reprimand me, or try to solve my problems; she just listened and encouraged me.  I'd like to think I'm not much of a crier, but both LeAnne and I cried during that phone conversation.  I cried when I was talking about how hard it is to have to choose between the church and loving someone I'm attracted to.  I asked why I have to choose between the church and companionship when other people don't have to.  LeAnne didn't have an answer, but she just cried with me.  I shared my favorite line from Preach My Gospel with her that says that "all that is unfair about life can be made right through the atonement of Jesus Christ," and she testified that she knew that was true. 

The shortest verse in all of our scriptures simply says, "Jesus wept."  He cried because he had just heard that Mary and Martha's brother Lazarus had died.  And even though Lazarus would soon be raised from the dead and all would be well, Jesus shared in Mary and Martha's pain and wept with them.  I often feel awkward when someone cries around me, but when LeAnne cried with me it felt like a gift.  She was feeling my pain and sharing my burden and empathizing with me in a very real way.  She wept for me and in so doing she showed that she loved me.  And I love her, too.  She is a woman filled with the pure love of Christ because she is one of His true disciples. 

While I'm not going to date or marry LeAnne, I have needed her in my life and continue to need her.  She and I originally formed a friendship because we were hoping to date each other.  That didn't work out, of course, but we are still incredibly close friends.  After trying to date LeAnne the prompting that I consistently felt to try to find a woman to date has stopped, and I haven't really been dating since then.  I know that there are many reasons and lessons that Heavenly Father was trying to teach me as I tried to date women, but I am certain that one of the principal reasons is so that I could meet LeAnne.  Had I not still been trying to date, we never would have met. 

This past summer I stopped by her house on my drive from Seattle to Tucson.  We hugged at the door and then walked into her house.  As we were walking through the kitchen she suddenly gave me another big hug and said, "It is so good to see you."  God works in mysterious ways and He will always take care of us.

As I have talked to my family and friends about the trials and struggles that accompany being gay and Mormon I have witnessed true charity over and over again.  Hearing my parents tell me that they will love me even if I leave the church and that if I ever have a boyfriend or husband he and I will always be welcome in their home.  Having my mom hug me and say, "Ben, we're not just on your side, we're with you 100%."  Hearing friends tell me that they just want me to be happy and that they will support any decision I make even if that means not being active in the church.  I recently told a friend of mine that I'm gay and he told me that if I ever decide to marry a man that he would support me and would be honored to be at my wedding.  These affirmations of love for me in spite of any decisions I make mean the world to me.  To me, this is true charity because their love for me is not conditional.  It is not based on my actions, but exists no matter what I do.

Knowing that in the eyes of my friends and family I'm free to leave the church whenever I want makes it easier to stay.  It's not due to social pressure that I am active in the church.    It's not because I'm trying to please my parents or siblings.  I'm active in the church because I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and I know it's true.  I believe in the restoration and I know the atonement is real because I have experienced it in my life.  I know that I can leave the church whenever I want to, but I don't want to.  I don't plan on ever doing that because I love it too much.  When a number of Christ's followers abandoned Him because of  His teachings He asked the twelve, "Will ye also go away?" and Peter responded, "To whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:67-68).  There is nowhere I'd rather be than actively participating in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It makes me happy, and I am willing to make any sacrifice to keep my covenants. 

I have decided to be more open about my experiences as a gay Mormon because I feel like we have many of examples of people who leave the church to be actively gay.  We need more examples of members who are gay and active.  It is my hope that all of us can "pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with [charity]" (Moroni 7:48).  It is my hope that we can love each other, no matter our circumstances, the way that I have been loved.  The love exemplified by Buzz and Ginny Schilaty who were willing to give up their lives for me.  The love demonstrated by Mitch and Craig who bore my burdens with me.  The love shown by LeAnne who wept with me.  May we all be like the Savior and love everyone regardless of their choices and circumstances is my hope and prayer.

And if you're still reading now, thank you.  Thank you for allowing me to be more open and maybe a little too vulnerable as I try to be more honest.  If you have any questions or comments I would prefer that you email me directly instead of commenting on this post. 

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