There is no way around it, learning that you have a gay father and then experience the dissolution of your parent’s mixed orientation marriage is a monkey wrench in the life of an 18-year-old preparing to serve a mission. It can take some time, especially for older children, to work past a binary understanding of heroes and villains in the deeply complex narrative of religiously facilitated mixed orientation marriages.
But when you are leaving on a mission, you don’t have a lot of time to do that kind of heavy lifting. You just don’t have the bandwidth to talk about the elephant in the room in that moment. You move forward not ignoring what is happening, but prioritizing all of the sensory input to be processed on your own timetable.
This timetable meant that my blessing as a father for my son in the name of God, to arm him with the strength of the Kitchen house, the hope of generations gone before, and the courage to sustain him through his mission, wouldn’t be able to be delivered in a conventional in-person manner. But it could be delivered nonetheless, filled with power and authority.
I penned this letter and asked that he open it on the plane to the Missionary Training Center in Provo.
September 2nd, 2015
Dear Elder Kitchen,
I have always been touched by the account of Emma Smith desiring a blessing from the hands of her husband, Joseph, shortly before he was taken to Carthage Jail. It was a turbulent period in Nauvoo and because time and opportunity did not permit, Joseph asked Emma to write the best blessing that she could and he would sign it upon his return from Carthage jail.
He never returned. Joseph was martyred on June 27th, 1844. But the blessing Emma wrote for herself remains, and is stunningly beautiful and hopeful.
Here is the blessing that Emma desired from her husband, the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“First of all that I would crave as the richest of heaven’s blessings would be wisdom from my Heavenly Father bestowed daily, so that whatever I might do or say, I could not look back at the close of the day with regret, nor neglect the performance of any act that would bring a blessing. I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself, that I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting. I desire a spirit of discernment, which is one of the promised blessings of the Holy Ghost.
“I particularly desire wisdom to bring up all the children that are, or may be committed to my charge, in such a manner that they will be useful ornaments in the Kingdom of God, and in a coming day arise up and call me blessed.
“I desire prudence that I may not through ambition abuse my body and cause it to become prematurely old and care-worn, but that I may wear a cheerful countenance, live to perform all the work that I covenanted to perform in the spirit-world and be a blessing to all who may in any wise need aught at my hands.
“I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side, and I ask my Heavenly Father that through humility, I may be enabled to overcome that curse which was pronounced upon the daughters of Eve. I desire to see that I may rejoice with them in the blessings which God has in store for all who are willing to be obedient to his requirements. Finally, I desire that whatever may be my lot through life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things.”
My son, I love you so deeply. It is a love that is eternal. It is the love scripture refers to as the love of the Father for his Son. I desire your success in every venture, especially now on your mission.
Circumstances being what they are at this moment in time, I desire to write you a blessing in the spirit of Emma Smith. A father’s blessing specifically for you. And then I will sign it. It is my blessing to you as you embark on your mission to serve Christ. You may not fully appreciate this at this moment, but I encourage you to keep it close and refer to it as you serve your mission.
It is one of the great privileges and honor that a father has, to be able to bless his children. And I want you armed with a blessing from your father as you go about the Lord’s work in England. This is given especially for you. Things your Heavenly Father and your earthly father desire to bless you with.
As you depart on your mission, I desire to give you my blessing. A sacred father’s blessing to strengthen you and fortify you as you embark in this great work.
I bless you with courage. In this great work you will be faced with circumstances and events that will test and try you. For the unprepared, they might fear–but you my son are prepared and you may confidently go forth with no fear as you preach the gospel to your brothers and sisters in England. You will feel on many occasions the hand of the Lord protecting you and preparing the way for you. He will be on your right hand and on your left. And His Spirit will be in your heart and his angels round about you, to bear you up. Continually write such sacred events in your journal as both a record of God’s hand in your life and as a testimony for future generations to see His great works and glorify Him.
Along with courage, I bless you with safety. Obedience to missionary rules will come easy for you and will be the iron rod leading you to the places and locations the Savior needs you to be. Stand ye in holy places. You will return to your mother and father with honor and vibrantly alive both in body and in spirit. I bless you that your physical body will be strong and that you will not suffer with illness or malaise. I bless your knees that they will be strong and not only carry you faithfully throughout your work in the vineyard for these two years, but that they will often bend in prayer as you seek council and direction from your Father in Heaven.
I bless you with a great capacity for learning and understanding and that you will be gentle and persuasive to those who you minister to. I bless you that you will retain what you study and that you will receive great insight and knowledge and many will look to you for advice and training. Study and observe, but then teach with the Spirit. Do not worry that you may not feel 100% prepared to deliver the gospel message. You are a called and set apart missionary and when you teach the Spirit will guide you even in the very instant what you are to say. I bless you that your testimony will grow and grow and become a powerful instrument in teaching.
I bless you with humility. Humility draws in others as they see you authentically living your religion. I bless you that you will learn from your leaders and come to understand that living the gospel is as important as preaching it. As you live the gospel and preach it you will have many opportunities to lead, and I bless you that you will be an effective leader. Many fellow missionaries will form life-long friendships with you and you will rejoice exceedingly as you cross paths later in life. Along with humility I bless you with the attribute of hard work. You will rise every day on fire, running the errand of the Lord so fervently throughout the day that nightly you will hit the pillow already asleep from the hard day’s work. You will be invigorated daily as you waste and wear out your life in the service of God and cheerfully do all things in your power to serve the Lord faithfully.
You will encounter opposition in your work. Satan will work to discourage you. Remember that discouragement is a tool of the devil and is never productive and should never be dwelt upon. I bless you with optimism. In times of trial gird up your loins, fresh courage take! Our God will never us forsake! Do not entertain the adversary. He hates you and desires to destroy you. But regardless of this, the grace of Christ is sufficient for you. It is His gift to you. Be buoyed up in the literal good news that Christ bled from every pore in the garden and died for you and was raised up again overcoming both spiritual and physical death. This is the hope that you will spread to those in your mission. I bless you that you will feel the urgency in this great work and will move forward in the building and blessing of the many lives you touch.
I bless you that you will instantly fall in love with the people you serve. They will feel your love and as you serve, you will grow to love them even more. You will change the lives of many forever and in return you will be forever changed by knowing the people you serve in your mission. You will gather so many blessings and new talents and attributes that you will be in awe that God has returned to you in blessings what seems to be much more than what you had to offer Him.
I bless you in the everyday things: that you will learn to get a long and love your companions and that you will learn to overlook the little things that may annoy you and stand in the way of fostering the Spirit in your companionship. I bless you that you will be able to communicate with your companions and work with them and learn the art of living with someone so that you will translate this into a companionship with a faithful eternal companion. I bless you that you will be able to let go of any anger or resentment or disappointment or shame you may harbor concerning the divorce of your parents and that such things will not be a hindrance to your work as a missionary. You have a loving mother and loving father and brothers and a sister who love and support you and who will be here for you. Many things in life fade away, but your parents and brothers and sister will not fade away. The very Eternal Father’s purposes may not be clear at this moment in time, but I bless you with faith. Faith that the unexpected threads that course through life will show to be a rich tapestry in the end.
I bless you that you will come to fully understand the spiritual gifts that God has given you and that you will become a great instrument in His hands as you go about this great and marvelous work. I bless you that you will go forth boldly, nobly and independent, sweeping through your mission with great power and love and that when you are done you can be confident that the purposes God sent you forth to do on your mission were accomplished and the Great Jehovah will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
You will return with honor, a changed man in Christ. This is my blessing for you.
Lovingly signed, your father
I then signed the letter by hand, validating the blessing of his gay father in the spirit of the prophets, in a Church that struggled to cast me as a villain in my own story with my children.
True to his timetable, over the years he continued his work to contextualize his experiences as a child of a religiously facilitated mixed orientation marriage and re-built his relationships within his family upon a foundation of authenticity and transparency. Two years after he returned from his mission, he reflected these blessings of family and stood with me in our backyard as I married my husband.
That is what we do as survivors of religiously encouraged mixed orientation marriage. We sign our own blessings to one another in the name of God when the Church fails to support us as a family. In the face of our own Carthage, written blessings sustain us in the arms of our eternal family.