Saturday, April 25, 2015

Passing All Understanding: A Mother's Story

Almost twenty-six years ago, I sat in a hospital bed in a maternity ward after the birth of my fourth child—my third son.  He was born on Memorial Day and the events of that day are strong in my memory.  But the clearest memory came after the delivery as I sat in my hospital bed. I wondered what his life would be like.
And as I wondered, I had a very clear impression.  I may have just thought it with all of the other questions, but it seemed more precise somehow—more than just a thought.  In that moment I knew clearly that this son would come to me one day to tell me that he was gay.  

I have never been under the delusion that gayness was a learned act, or a choice, or that it could be changed—although wouldn’t it be wonderful if enough faith could move that mountain—but I knew from my own experience, that in a person who had perfection anxiety, it can be a worry.  I wondered for a moment what I was meant to do with this information, quietly whispered to my heart, and came to the conclusion that I needed to know this so that I would be prepared to reassure him, on that future day, that it was just a worry, and that he need not fear.  

As the years went by, I put all those thoughts away somewhere in my heart, but I remembered my impression. He was the best baby I had ever seen.  He was peaceful and calm and contented, a joy and light in my own dark time of depression.  I watched him grow and become a beautiful, creative, thoughtful boy.  When you looked into his “sprite eyes” you could see an amazing, loving, trusting, deeply thinking child.  He was precise and careful.  He was so concerned with doing and being just right.

I watched his love for music and all kinds of creative pursuits. He loved to have deep, philosophical discussions.  He is intelligent and funny—full of humor with a special grasp of irony.  He has always cared deeply for the people around him.  Children, who always seem to be able to sense the goodness in people, love him and even though he essentially ignores them half the time, they hang around where he is.  I believe it is because he has a peaceful energy—spirit, if you will. But he was never happy enough with anything he did, or with his ability to do it.  He wasn’t overly confident, but was overly cautious and careful.  His greatest pursuit seemed to be to get whatever he was doing exactly right.

He seemed to have a pretty big crush on a girl in his school class when he was eleven or so, but he never dated at all and wasn’t terribly at ease around any girls but his older sister and her friends.  I never pushed him to date.  He wasn’t very comfortable with physical contact and had a bit of a germ phobia, so I wasn’t surprised.  

He didn’t have the voice inflections and physical attributes most associated with gayness.  He didn’t have any of the more feminine affectations.  He was creative and quiet and not terribly interested in sports, although he is an amazing hiker, and his eye/hand co-ordination is impressive. But I knew, by little comments and worried expressions, that he was becoming concerned with his sexuality.  I watched and waited for him to come to me with his concerns.

I will ever be grateful for the innate understanding of these things that I seemed to possess—the calm I carried and the complete lack of homophobia that I have always felt.  Every young man, and the one young woman that I knew who were gay, were among the most thoughtful, unselfish, funny and kind people I knew. I couldn’t comprehend or predict the impact that it would have on any individual and family.  But I could only see that love was the answer to any of this—to everything.  I was blessed to always see mercy and to see little necessity for meting out justice.  I was blessed to be the right mother for this son, and with the Spirit that taught me, a little at a time, to listen and feel what I needed to know and understand. 

I was so disappointed in the campaign started by meaningful members of the church to oppose gay marriage.  I just can’t understand why it matters to us.  I started to see that for most LDS people fighting for family meant fighting against gay people.  I watched as people protested the showing of Broke Back Mountain, while in the next theatre there was a horrifying movie about mass murder and torture—unimaginable cruelty—that no one seemed to even notice or be phased by.  Who are all of these people that are thinking they are being so righteous when they have completely lost the most important of godlike attributes—charity—love—the love that passes all understanding—the pure love of Christ?
I was not surprised at all when the day finally came that my son tried to tell me of his fears.  He was trying to get ready to go on a mission.  He was struggling with his disappointments in his own imperfections.  He didn’t think he was worthy to go, and I knew that much of it was because of his concerns about sexual feelings.  But I waited and he finally came to talk with me.  

This is another clear memory.  I was calm.  I felt reassured and I tried to reassure him.  I told him what I had always planned to tell him—that he is not the only person to have ever worried if he was gay, but that it didn’t necessarily mean he was—that it didn’t mean he wasn’t.  I watched the tears drip from his nose, into his hands.  I told him I knew a few things for sure—that I loved him and that he was loved by a Heavenly Father whose love would never change for him whether he went on a mission or not, whether he got married or not.  I think it helped in those moments, and for a while, but the path was just beginning to unwind before him.  I hoped that my hopes for him were true—that he would realize that it was just part of his perfection anxiety and that his wouldn’t be that most difficult path.  But I watched, and I knew.

When he was around twenty-two, he asked me once when he would have to get married.  I told him that both my dad and brother didn’t marry until they were twenty-eight so not to even worry about it until then.  The look of relief on his face was almost comical—the feeling of relief was palpable.  Later, he asked me several times if it would be fair to marry a girl if you couldn’t love her completely.  I knew what he was asking, and I was surprised to hear myself tell him that it definitely would not be the right thing to do. Everyone deserves a chance to be loved completely.  It would not work out well in the end.  I had seen it before and it was not best for anyone involved.  

Why wasn’t I telling him that it would work—that you just had to trust—that you would learn to love each other enough—that it would be the right thing to do?  Wasn’t that what I had heard long ago was the solution—the cure?  I wanted to know something different.  I wanted to be absolutely sure that the religion I love and the understanding I had about my son, and all of these sons and daughters, were in line with each other.  I wanted to know all of the answers, but the only answer there really was, and is, that saves families and people, is love.  Love this child.  Love these people, and those people, and make sure that everyone knows that there is a place for them—that they are loved.
That was it.  That was what I knew—what I know.
Two Christmases ago, Utah was all ablaze with the gay marriage fight.  At our house, my oldest son was particularly vocal in its condemnation. I tried to steer the conversation away, but it would constantly be brought back.  I knew my oldest son loved his younger brother, but he had no idea.  Everyone but my husband and I, and his older sister closest to him, just thought that he was shy, anxious and O.C.D.  

The day after Christmas I was so anxious for him.  He was depressed and withdrawn.  I knew, had always known, and still wished for denial, but he asked if he could speak with his dad and me.  So, in the quiet of our bedroom, after years of prayers and tears and anguish, my son finally let himself say out loud to me and to his dad that he was not like all of the lucky people in his family, who could—with the blessings of heaven—find a mate, have beautiful children, enjoy all of the blessings of the temple, believe in God and still be happy with themselves, repent of small or serious sins and still have the hope of every good desire being someday met.  He is gay.  He has become labeled and put in a very small box.  

The thought of all of these things was becoming well beyond bearable for him.  He was in complete despair.  But maybe because I had never voiced all of the negative notions, or preached a different line than love, he chose to come to me and to his dad at the bleakest moment and ask for our love and acceptance and help.  
I could have gone to wake him the next morning to come and join the family, and found him, and found the note telling me that he had given up, but instead I watched him as the tears dripped from his nose, and listened and prayed for the right words to say.  I heard my black-and-white-world husband tell his son how much he loved him and stop before he said too much.  I watched them hug each other.  I cried with him and felt the Spirit as strong as I have ever known witness to me that he was known and loved and in God’s watchful care. 

One at a time, throughout the next year, he told each of his siblings.  There was some surprise, but not a single bad reaction or unkind word—only love and support.  He was employed by my second son, who one day insisted to know what was wrong.  When he was told, he simply asked why my son hadn’t told him sooner and then went back to work.  A few minutes later he came back to reassure his younger brother that they would always be friends.
My oldest son and his sweet wife continued to invite him to dinner and her family get-togethers for holidays and birthdays.  Then, when his loneliness and anxiety were overwhelming him again, I told him to go see them and get a hug from his little nephew who absolutely adores him.  While he was there that night, he asked if he could move in and rent the room in their basement, and they invited him without hesitation and with open arms. 

We are all still puzzled by how this all works in our world.  I cry sometimes and tell God how ridiculous this all is—that I am angry—that I don’t want to lose Him—that I won’t lose my son.  
One day the words came to my mind—hold on to your faith, it will be the only thing he has sometimes.  He is not believing in the God I love right now—which is completely understandable.  But I told him, that day after Christmas, that when the darkness comes and he despairs again, to promise me that he will pray before he makes any decisions—that he will call me or dad, that he will trust our love—that he will chose the light, or if he can no longer see even a spark, that he will ask someone to help him see some light again.
It is the Savior’s light.  He loves my son.  He has suffered his anguish.  It doesn’t make sense to me now, but I know enough to know that there are more answers than are given to us in the simple parts of the gospel.  We are given more as we utilize what we have.  And what we have is this commandment:
“Wherefore, … pray with all of the energy of your heart that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons (and daughters) of God; that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”  (Moroni 7:48)
This isn’t talking about praying for all of these things separately.  These things come to you if you have charity—the pure love of Christ.  You cannot have more knowledge, you can’t be like God, you can’t be purified, or have real hope without love.  Because without charity you are nothing.

“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones …, it were better for him that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”(Matt 18:6)
My son is one of these little ones.  There are those that, in the name of all that is good, would harm him — would say the words that would offend him — that make him uncomfortable before the table of God, that choose to teach him to despise himself, even though he, too, is a child of God.  

But charity never fails, and it will be well with you if you are possessed of it when someone’s son needs a kind word, and a loving touch from you.