Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sometimes People Surprise You

On Monday, February 8th my sister picked up our mom and drove her from her home of 40+ years to her new home at an assisted living facility. I traveled home to be with my dad for this event because I didn’t want him to be alone. That morning I sat on the couch with my mom and held her hand, knowing that in a few hours she’d be leaving. I told her she was moving and she sighed and said, “Oh dear. I just always want to be with you.” Before my sister drove her away, my dad said he needed a minute to cry. So he sat on his bed and wept. Mom wandered in to comfort him and said, “It’s going to be okay. I just always want to be with you.” This all happened while I was teaching a class online. My sister had invited me to go with her to the assisted living place, but I had declined. While I was teaching I turned my head to look out the window and saw them pull away. Then I looked back at 25 tiny boxes of faces on my laptop screen and continued to teach my class, pretending that life was the same as it had always been.

My dad doesn’t fly. He has really bad tinnitus--ringing in his ears--and he worries that flying could make something already unbearable even worse. I don’t blame him. I remember the moment I knew that my dad would never fly again. He had purchased tickets to come to my PhD graduation in Tucson in 2017. The flights were already paid for, but he very apologetically backed out a few days before the trip. If my dad wouldn’t fly to my graduation using tickets he’d already bought, I couldn’t imagine something he would be willing to fly for (he did drive to all my other graduations, of which there have been far too many). 

To help him adjust to living without my mom, I decided to take my dad to Palm Springs, CA to spend some time with his sister and brother-in-law and be in the sun. He hadn’t been on a vacation since my mom was diagnosed five years ago and he became her primary caregiver. The trip meant 20+ hours of driving each way. I was happy to make the drive with him. We were going to start the trip Tuesday afternoon after I finished work. Monday night my dad’s friend Sabrina came over for her weekly hangout with him. As they talked I looked up flights to Palm Springs from Seattle just for fun and they were $58 each way. I was not expecting them to be so cheap, especially last minute. I mentioned this to my dad and he seemed to almost consider the idea. Sabrina thought flying would be a good idea. I didn’t want to stress him out on an already tough day, so I dropped the idea of flying. 

Holding hands with my sister

The next morning I was thinking about the long drive across the width of the country and I really didn’t want to do it. I looked up the flights again and they were still $58. I approached my dad and said I thought we should fly. He slammed his fist on the table and said enthusiastically, “Let’s do it!” I checked in with him a few more times after he had some time to think just to make sure he was actually willing to fly and then bought the tickets. 

I was worried he was going to back out and wasn’t 100% sure he was going to go through with it until we were on the plane. He said he was nervous and he was. I texted all my siblings and asked them to pray for him. I gave my dad the window seat because he hadn’t been on a plane in nine years and it was a rare sunny day in Seattle so there would be a lot to see as we took off. I wrote in my journal Tuesday night: “When we were flying I looked at him looking out the window and started to get emotional. It felt like I was watching him get his freedom back. He’s courageous. When we landed I asked how his ears were doing. He got emotional and said, ‘I feel good. Lots of people prayed for me and it worked.’” On our layover in Oakland he kept saying, “Now that I can fly, I can go anywhere in the world.” If you had told me on Monday morning that my dad would get on plane on Wednesday, I would have said you were crazy. And yet it happened. 

The trip to Palm Springs wasn’t as restful as we had hoped. There were a few snags with the assisted living place that stretched our already depleted emotional reserves. But dad was here with family and I think that really helped. I heard him say multiple times, “I hope she’s alright. I hope she’s happy. I hope she’s not lonely.” He just loves her so much and wants the best for her. We've gotten multiple updates from my brothers that she is doing well and thriving in her new home.  

He's even wiser than he looks

While in Palm Springs we took a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. My dad loves the National Parks. More than once he said, “I can’t believe I’m actually here. It doesn’t feel real. I never thought I’d be here.” Charlie was passing through town randomly and spent the day with us at the park. He was doing his typically Charlie thing and taking tons of photos for Instagram. We watched him try to land a few flips, but never land them quite right. Right before his fourth attempted my dad shouted, “You got this, Charlie! This will be the one! You’re gonna land this one perfectly!” And that is most Buzz Schilaty thing he could have said. My dad encourages, he cheers, and he builds people. He’s mostly to blame for my overconfidence and my belief that I’m awesome and can change the world. Because that’s how he always talked to me. 


Today we’re getting back on a plane. We’re flying back to Washington. Back to my dad’s new life living in a house all by himself. I’ll be there for a few more days to help ease him into his new normal and curb some of the pain of his loss. My heart broke for him this last week and I’ve also been so proud of him. I don’t know what the next years of his life will look like, and I’m going to try not to even guess, because I think he’s going to surprise me. 

Me, Lindsay, dad, Marilyn, and Mike

I can't do a flip, but I can barely click my heels

Mom in her new place thrilled to be folding socks

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

I Knew When to Come out

For years I surrounded my secret in protective armor, afraid of letting anyone else see what I was hiding. Would they hate me as much as I hated myself? And yet at the same time I yearned to be vulnerable. I yearned to be understood and to have someone to talk to. But being vulnerable was super risky. Removing the metaphorical armor would leave me exposed to truly being hurt. I was terrified of sharing my secret and then having nothing to deflect the jabs and punches and strikes that I feared would come. No one could hurt me more than a person that I had opened up to. 

There is a very specific feeling I get when I know I'm supposed to come out to someone. It’s hard to describe, but it's like a nervous, courageous sort of feeling. There’s a stirring inside of me and my heart pounds. It's not anxiety, but more like an invitation that comes from inside of me. When this happens I need to decide if I’m going to trust this feeling or listen to my fear.

I didn't feel prompted to share my orientation with anyone until after my mission. I returned to BYU and dove into dating just like I was supposed to. As I searched for an eternal companion the reality that I was gay was at the forefront of my mind like never before. One night I was sitting in a car with a good friend from my mission. He was telling me about some of his life troubles and I felt this intense need to reciprocate his openness and tell him I was attracted to men. But I was terrified and said nothing. Experiences like this happened again and again. A friend would open up in a private setting and I would feel this stirring inside of me that I would ignore because of fear. 

I wanted to let people into what I was experiencing so badly, but I couldn't because of fear. The Lord said to Joseph Smith, "But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man" (D&C 60:2). Being gay clearly isn't a talent (but if it were I'd hope to win some kind of prize), but I was hiding important experiences because I was afraid. 

Even after I started coming out it was often lacked the courage to be vulnerable when I got that “it’s time to come out” feeling. I would sometimes be so worried that I felt physically ill. I would hesitate and not initially act on the prompting. But as I got more and more used to what the Spirit was encouraging me to do, it got easier and I became more confident. So when I got that feeling while teaching Elders Quorum I came out. When I got that feeling during a 5th Sunday lesson at church I came out. When I was meeting with my bishop for the first time and got that feeling I came out. And every time I responded to that prompting something wonderful happened. Every time there was some kind of tangible confirmation that coming out in that setting was the right thing to do. Every time I felt uplifted and edified, and so did those with whom I had shared. Quite a contrast from hiding in fear and saying nothing. 

Provo Utah Temple 2018
When I was 33 I was working as a temple worker in the Provo Utah Temple. I was out publicly and anyone who knew me knew I was gay. But I decided to not come out to my fellow temple workers. I didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable and I didn't want anyone to say something unkind to me in the temple. My logic told me that it would be easiest to just play straight. One day I was talking with an older gentleman on my shift while we were waiting to do an assignment. He asked me what I planned to do after I graduated with my MSW. I told him that I hoped to work with LGBTQ clients and their families. Right then we had to fulfill an assignment and he said sternly, "Find me after. We need to talk." I immediately started to worry about the lecture I was going to receive on the ills of homosexuality. 

I found him later and we sat on a padded bench. He asked me why I was interested in working with LGBTQ clients. The feeling I knew so well stirred inside of me so without hesitating I told him I was gay. He then got emotional and said, "My son is gay, too." We sat on that bench talking for quite a while. When the conversation was over he thanked me profusely for trusting him because he had needed someone to talk to that day. His last words to me were: "Providence brought us together today." 

This feeling came multiple times as I interacted with temple workers on my shift. It led to beautiful conversations every single time. Even though I had planned to be silent, I was frequently prompted to speak. My coming out in those settings wasn't to get attention, or to prove a point, or to increase LGBTQ visibility. I simply came out in the temple because I felt prompted to do so. 

Mitch, the first person I came out to

I for sure don't know what any other LGBTQ person should do. But what I do know is that I missed a lot of opportunities to come out because I was scared. I also know that waiting until I was 30 to come out publicly was the right thing for me for a number of reasons. I came out on my blog at that time because I had come to recognize when the Spirit was prompting me to speak.

I've heard a number of friends share similar stories of learning to recognize a feeling that invites them to come out. I don't know when the right time to come out is, but God does and He'll help us know. Immense goodness has come into my life as I have followed the repeated promptings to come out. When I hid because of fear, all the kindness that was offered to me was also somewhat deflected by my protective armor. When I removed my armor and let myself be seen, I finally felt the full embrace that my loved ones were offering me. That was the experience God was inviting me to have.