I haven’t had much time to write this week. We are getting ready to go on vacation on Saturday, so work is busy and after work almost busier. But I had a moment tonight and thought I’d continue the story.

So after my experience at United Church of Christ, I started to feel a bit more hopeful. I started studying more about the doctrinal basis for church-based anti-gay rhetoric and found that it’s really basically three passages in the Bible that people fixate on when declaring that God condemns gay people. I won’t go into those in this post, though maybe I will later. But I did find that there are many religious scholars who interpret those passages differently. I also found religious writings that show some evidence of homosexuality in the Bible (the story of David and Jonathan is one example), though of course that is disputed. But more and more I found that this wasn’t as black and white as I’d believed.

Plus, I had my own experience and feelings to consider. I’ve always felt like I was close to the Spirit or the Holy Ghost, and felt guided into making certain decisions. On my mission, we often taught people the words of Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” I’d felt those feelings in the past, and I was feeling them more and more as I came to accept myself, and to accept the idea that God made me this way. I knew I was still a good person, and that’s part of what had been so hard about this journey, because what I knew about myself didn’t seem to match up with what I’d been told about people who leave the church for any reason, let alone for such a “big sin” as being gay.

Towards the end of that summer, my nephew came home from a mission. I was on my way to his homecoming and I was feeling very conflicted. I tend to be a very emotional person, and I knew as my nephew recounted his experiences, which is often very emotional, I would probably feel such strong feelings that I would cry. This isn’t unusual for me (those who know me well will be nodding their heads as they read this). So I was driving up to the church and I was thinking about how my whole family knew I was struggling with something, though I don’t think I’d told anyone at this point what was actually going on. But I hadn’t attended my older nephew’s wedding in the temple several months earlier, so it wasn’t a secret that I wasn’t exactly active in the church. And I was worried that I would give my family false hope, by possibly feeling emotional, which often indicates “feeling the Spirit”, and they would think that I would start coming to church again. I didn’t necessarily want to have any conversations about it at that point, but I also was feeling more and more sure that my path didn’t lead that way – I wouldn’t be going back.

I was feeling anxious and worried about that, and also thinking ahead to the inevitable moment when I would have to start telling people the real truth behind what had been going on with me. I decided to turn on some music, so I turned on the Lion King soundtrack (yes, I’m a showtune junkie) and forwarded to a song that I hadn’t listened to in a while. It is the song where Simba prays to the spirit of his father to know what he should do, and wonders why he hasn’t gotten an answer. It was a song that I’d really identified with at an earlier time in my life.

Where has the starlight gone?
Dark is the day
How can I find my way home?

Home is an empty dream
Lost to the night
Father, I feel so alone

You promised you’d be there
Whenever I needed you
Whenever I call your name
You’re not anywhere

I’m trying to hold on
Just waiting to hear your voice
One word, just a word will do
To end this nightmare

When will the dawning break
Oh endless night
Sleepless I dream of the day

When you were by my side
Guiding my path
Father, I can’t find the way

You promised you’d be there
Whenever I needed you
Whenever I call your name
You’re not anywhere

I’m trying to hold on
Just waiting to hear your voice
One word, just a word will do
To end this nightmare

I know that the night must end
And that the sun will rise
And that the sun will rise

I know that the clouds must clear
And that the sun will shine
And that the sun will shine

In the past, when I’d listened to that song, it was always that final chorus that made me feel hopeful – someday the sun will rise and things will get better. But this time, it was the earlier chorus – you promised you’d be there, one word just a word will do to end this nightmare – that really spoke so strongly to my heart. I realized that I HAD heard his voice. I wasn’t waiting for my answer. I had it.

At that same moment, I recalled a verse from the Doctrine & Covenants (LDS Scripture, for those who might not know) that I’d always really liked. It is from Section 6, verses 22 and 23: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak a peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?”

The feeling came so strongly into my heart and mind that I had already heard my answer, and that during the past year or so, whenever I felt conflicted and worried was when I was trying to fit back into the mold or worrying about what other people thought of me, and whenever I felt at peace was when I was accepting this part of myself and working to move forward in my life. It was kind of like the final piece in that part of the puzzle, the final confirmation I needed to know that, even if others wouldn’t understand it, I was on the path God wanted me to be on. I was able to go to church with my family, feel the strong emotions from my nephew’s homecoming, maybe even cry a little with happiness about his experiences and my own.

Between those two experiences (the first being the one at UCC from part 5), and many smaller ones in between, I was able to finally starting finding joy and happiness in my life again. I say this is the semi-final chapter because in may ways it’s the culmination of my personal journey. It’s not really the end of the story, of course, and I’ll write more later about coming out to friends and family, and then meeting the love of my life. But any happiness I have now stems from that particular summer, and of course all the struggle that came before it.

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This is probably the hardest part to write about because so much of it is intensely personal. Not that this whole thing isn’t intensely personal, but somehow talking about God and religion makes a person very vulnerable, because it’s an individual thing that also becomes a collective thing and when your experience and beliefs start to differ from the collective, things can get dicey.

I wavered between a couple of opposing emotions when I was sorting through my beliefs. On the one hand, I really felt that I had been led to this point and that therefore God must have a hand in it. And I felt very normal, not the sinner or evildoer that gay people are often depicted as, and that too made me feel that there must be some good in it, somewhere. But on the other hand, I had so greatly internalized what I’d been taught about what God felt about anyone who “strayed from the path” in any way that I felt like I was cutting myself off from God by choosing to accept this part of myself. And there were times when I felt like, well if God is going to hate me for this then fine, who needs God?

It’s hard to put a timeline to these feelings, but I was in flux between these two points for much of what I’ve written in these last few posts. There were times when I felt very conflicted and times when I felt something close to peace, but I wasn’t quite ready to decide what any of it meant.

Unfortunately for me, timing-wise, I was at the far end of the pendulum, feeling very much like I would just go ahead and turn my back on God if he was going to make this a part of me and yet label me a sinner for it, when the person I’d fallen in love with cut me out of her life. It was a necessary thing at the time, and in hindsight I’m glad she did it because I would not have been strong enough to do it on my own. But at the time it felt like everything had ended. There wasn’t a point to anything. I was completely empty, emotionally and spiritually, and I didn’t know where to turn. I’d always turned to God in my dark times in the past, but I’d decided God didn’t want me if I was gay and I didn’t see any way of not being gay. I had only told one friend about the almost-relationship that had ended, and she had a job and family of her own so I couldn’t really monopolize much of her time with my own crisis. So I had almost no support system at all, no one I could really talk to, and I realized that despite having friends and family who I loved and who loved me, what I really wanted most of all was to have someone who was the most important person to me and who would feel the same way about me. Up to that point, despite the closeness of many friendships, in the end there is always someone else a friend needs to go home to. I wanted more than that. I wanted to be the most important person in someone’s life.

In these weeks of despair, I started very seriously considering suicide as an option. I was deep in debt from my accident, working at a job that I enjoyed but that would never pay me enough to get on my feet, and felt emotionally that I was not in a position to find a new job. Looking for a new job is hard enough when you feel strong emotionally, and I felt that adding any new facet of rejection to my life would be the final straw.

So I felt stuck, emotionally, spiritually, financially. And it started to feel more and more like suicide was an out. Luckily, I was living at my mom’s at the time, because of my financial situation, and I still had enough of my wits about me to know that I couldn’t do that to her. If I was going to do it, it had to be somewhere else because I didn’t want her to have to find me. So I had a plan in mind, but it was quite complicated and therefore easier to resist.

But every day was a struggle. Every day I had to just basically concentrate on surviving that one day. If anyone asked me about long term plans (I’d been considering grad school), I couldn’t even come up with a good fake answer, because the truth was I couldn’t seeĀ past each day. I felt like if I could make it from sunup to sunset, I’d succeeded.

I had a good friend at work who knew a bit of what was going on in my life who had been inviting me to attend her church for a while. She belonged to a United Church of Christ congregation and I didn’t know much about them but she told me that not only didn’t they mind gay people, the current pastor was gay. I’d politely declined a few times, still clinging to the idea that there was only one “truth” and we’d mutually rejected each other.

But one particular weekend when things were very bad and I was thinking a lot about my complicated suicide plan, I decided to go with her. I didn’t know what to expect, and I think on the surface I wasn’t expecting anything. But deep down I was hoping to feel something, anything, that would give me some hope. We attended an early informal meeting which was nice but nothing special, and then we stayed for the more formal part of the service. There were hymns and announcements, and then the pastor stood up to give the sermon.

“I’ve had a difficult week,” he began. “A close friend of mine committed suicide. Several of us knew he was struggling, but no one knew how dark the night had become for him.” He went on to talk about hope and caring for each other, finding ways to help people in need. But I really didn’t hear anything else. I had started to cry and I wept as quietly as I could through the rest of the meeting. My friend put her arm around me and I tried to listen to the rest, but I’d gotten what I came for. I felt in that moment as if God himself had sat down next to me and said “I know. You may think no one else knows, but I know.” This referred, of course, to my feelings of suicide, which I’d not told anyone about, including my therapist. I was exactly like the pastor’s friend – there were people who knew I was struggling, but no one that knew exactly how dark things had become. But I felt such a feeling of love and understanding in that moment. And the striking thing, which I noticed even at the time, was that there was no admonition, no call to repentance, no “don’t do this thing you’re thinking about” or “try not to be gay anymore, okay?” Just “No one else knows, but I know.”

It was the beginning of a new part of the journey for me. Things were still difficult, and there were many other things I learned, and continued to learn, but I no longer felt hopeless. I came to believe that God is much bigger than any of us realize and that there is peace available for those that seek it. Nothing is ever as black and white as it seems on the surface, and what is truth for one person may not apply to everyone. And for me, this meant distancing myself from the LDS church.

to be continued…