My seventeen year old daughter is smart, funny, beautiful, outgoing, musical, athletic, faithful, and gay. When she came out and talked to me about 3 years ago I wrapped my arms around her and told her, “Thank you! Thank you for making me feel like such a good mom by being willing and able to talk to me about anything!” I am still thanking the Lord that that was my first reaction. A wonderful conversation then ensued. My overall sentiment was, “You are so young. You don’t need to take on any identity or label. You can just live your life and be yourself and see how your future unfolds.” That actually seemed to help her breath a sigh of relief, but it didn’t do anything to change her mind — it wasn’t intended to.
She actually didn’t talk to me until she had already received her answer from the Lord. She had been struggling and praying about this for months (probably years.) One day she was sitting in the back seat of our 12 passenger van (she is one of 11 kids) when one of the kids asked me what I thought about a woman we know who was struggling with some personal challenges. I don’t remember the exact details, but I do remember that I said something along the lines of, “Well, it doesn’t really matter what I think about her, other than that I love her and accept her where she is. If she is wrong, I think God can teach her that, just like I hope God will teach me where I’m wrong. And in any case I know that God knows her heart is good and loves her and can make up for her mistakes.” I didn’t know it at the time, but my daughter burst into tears and cried the rest of the way home. She had received her answer. She was gay. God loved her. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. She could live her best life and God could lead her and make up for anything she got wrong. She spoke to me the next day.
Things were relatively peaceful and calm until one fateful seminary lesson. I won’t go into the details, but it was about as bad as it could have possibly been. She and her twin sister cried for two days and never were able to return to that seminary class. Hearing them tell me about it was the first time I experienced feeling truly under attack by my own community. The image of the three of us pinned in a corner with swords drawn at our necks came powerfully into my mind. My husband and I met with the teacher who was a good guy who simply had some blind spots and had no idea how his lesson would land for someone like my daughter. He was thankfully quite open and even grateful for our feedback and agreed to my request to move the subject of “homosexuality” or “SSA” from the the lesson of “The Natural Man is an Enemy to God” to the lesson about bearing one another’s burdens, comforting those in need of comfort, and mourning with those that mourn.
But something had changed for my daughter. I felt the palpable need for her to have community — to be around kids like her where she didn’t need to have a secret or feel alone. I was so thankful to find Rainbow Mutual. I admit I was nervous. I didn’t want to send her into a lion’s den of anti-mormon sentiment, where she would be told that the church is toxic and hateful and that she needed to leave to be happy. But after much prayer and talking to several parents I learned that lots of active LDS kids attended, and I felt like it was the right thing. She said it was so strange to be there where everyone knew she was “gay,” but she had a wonderful time and made some good friends and I felt like it really was exactly what she needed.
A couple of months later, she asked if she could talk to me one Sunday after church. We came in my bedroom and she told me with a sparkle in her eye that she had met someone. I honestly had no idea what to think or how to react. God had told me several times that it was my job to LOVE, that my daughter had an important mission on this earth and that being gay was a necessary part of it that she had willingly accepted in service to God and her fellow men, but this was new. This was actual. This was possibly “acting on it.” I quickly offered a desperate prayer.
As I listened to my daughter excitedly tell me about this great girl she had met at Rainbow Mutual, I saw her lifted up and held in God’s cupped hands. A tremendous feeling of peace swept over me with the words, “I’ve got her,” and I knew that it was true. I didn’t need to push back or worry that I had been wrong by letting her go. I didn’t need to gently voice my concern or disapproval. I had God’s clear permission to rejoice with my happy daughter and to trust that God had it all under control. When she showed me a picture of the girl, I felt a rush of love that I knew was not my own. God was letting me feel His love for these two precious daughters, and everything was just as it should be in this moment.
I was able to find a new seminary class for my daughter’s senior year and I started the semester by calling the teacher and telling him our situation (there was no room for another negative experience.) He was wonderful! I also spoke to our bishop and Young Women’s president who were also wonderful. What a blessing!
So that is where we are. My daughter is openly dating girls with my (and I feel like the Lord’s) permission, and she is fully active in church. She is temple worthy and I’ve had subtle impressions that she may even serve a mission — I’m not ruling it out. She may also live a wonderful life with a female partner — I’m not ruling that out either. She is just a young woman finding her way and hand in hand with God carving out a path for herself. And my desperate plea to all sides is, “Just give her space!”
In so many ways I feel like our kids are the rope in a desperate tug o’ war between two sides both claiming to know for certain what is right for them, what they should do, and what will make them happy. The inevitable IF THEN approach from both sides feels toxic to me. One side says IF you are gay THEN you must leave the church so you can live a fulfilling life and be happy. The other side says IF you have a testimony THEN you must follow the plan, no matter what, so you can be saved and be happy. Both sides paint a vivid picture of the horrors of the other, and tend to paint their own as sunshine and lollipops. The truth is, either of these paths will, to one extent or other, split these kids in half. And another truth is, NONE OF US KNOW WHAT IS BEST at any given moment for each of these individual children of God. Oh, I know we tend to think we know, but I have learned in powerful ways that we don’t. It is hard enough for me to know moment to moment what God wants me to do. Trying to find and follow those answers just for myself is more than a full time job. And for these kids there is so much pressure and so much noise and judgment that it can become almost impossible for them to find the peace, quiet, and freedom to be able to listen to the guidance of the still small voice.
I have become convinced that my job is to try to help provide that peace, quiet, and freedom. I have learned from God that the way I do this is by loving and trusting my daughter, and my God. My job is to make sure my daughter knows to the core of her being that both I and God will love her, trust her, and be there for her no matter where her path leads. And the truth is, her path is never done. If I waste my relationship with her disapproving of certain twists or turns that I don’t even really understand, what good will I accomplish? She knows that I love the church and have a testimony of God and of the Book of Mormon and the plan of salvation. She knows that I want the best for her both now and eternally. And she also knows that I am not gay and really have no idea what that would be like.
I have come to know that my effort should be spent on my own relationship with God, learning to love and to trust in the power of His Atonement and His goodness and wisdom, even when it seems really hard and really scary. She is the only one who gets to and has to live her life. She must be the one to make these decisions. And frankly, these decisions are far too big for her to make for any reason other than she feels in her own heart and soul that it is what is best for her and where God is leading her.
So again, I repeat my desperate mother’s plea: To all of her friends, family, neighbors, teachers, and leaders in the church, Please just give her space! To all of her advocates, allies, friends, and activists in the LGBT community, Please just give her space! Please don’t force her hand. What she needs from each of you is time, understanding, love, examples, support, and acceptance. What she doesn’t need is judgment, opinions, pressure, ultimatums, reproaches, or rejection. This is her path. It is between her and her God, and I beg of each of you to join with me in trusting them to work it out together.
Please, just give them the space to do it.
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This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.