A Mother’s Messy Love

At my mother’s funeral last week, us kids decided we’d each share a short story of mom that provided a good example of who she was. I chose this story because it showed the depth of my mother’s empathy and how her perspective had changed over the last couple of years. I’ll develop it a little more here, especially as it pertains to those connected to LGBTQ Mormons. And I apologize in advance for the writing – I’m not used to narratives (as you might have noticed if you’ve read my previous posts).

I’d say I grew up in a fairly normal LDS family. I always knew I was loved, even if my siblings and I fought often. Dad worked, mom took care of us, taught music out of the home, and was fairly active in the community and church. Nothing was ever directly said about gay people or sexuality, except about LGBTQ political causes like gay marriage. Looking back, my family was at best dismissive about LGBTQ issues – but at its worst gay people were moral and political “others”. That’s not necessarily the worst messages someone could hear while growing up, and I certainly never heard my parents declare hatred or reject gay people. Other kids certainly have had it, and do have it, much worse.

However, as a teenager I took those messages seriously, and as teenagers often do, I exaggerated them. I concocted this notion that if anyone knew that I was attracted to men I’d also be cast out as an “other” – as someone unworthy of love or attention.

And so, I waited to tell my parents until I was about 24. It went about as well as I expected – I had told them that I was going to stop dating women to figure myself out (but I did not state that I had an intention to date men, which was true at the time). My mother responded with her hope and testimony that I would find a woman to marry anyways. She and my father responded with other comments that would probably be typical of loving parents who felt that same-sex relationships were a sin. Mostly comments about staying true to God and the church, hope in eternal blessings, etc.

My mom and I would discuss this often. Instead of dismissing me when we disagreed, she was open to me discussing my struggles with how the Church would treat LGBTQ folks as well as other minorities that didn’t quite fit the narrative. At the beginning we rarely agreed on anything. I could tell sometimes that sometimes she was frustrated. She would often say: “I wish I could just give you my testimony of the Church and why these things are important.” * To be clear, I was and am a full member of the Church. However, I have many qualms and do push that things get better. * Whenever I would breach the topic of my sexuality, it would often end with mom saying, “We might not know why, but I know staying faithful is the only way.” But no matter how heated it got, she continued to engage with me. Now matter how painful for her, she came along my journey.

About two years after coming out and after so so many disagreements, arguments, a suicide scare (on my end) that she did not handle well, and so many other things, I had a tonsillectomy. For the unfamiliar, a tonsillectomy when you’re an adult is an unpleasant experience. Very unpleasant. I was in bed for about a week or so and not at 100% for a good three weeks. My mom, without prompting, drove the six hours to be with me during the surgery and most of the recovery.

It was rough time, both physically and in our relationship. We argued about religious and sexuality matters more. I remember telling her how distant I felt from God’s love. All the things I thought I knew had to be reworked. She couldn’t understand why I felt that way. Then, physically, I was numb, drugged, and always vomiting and bloody. I had to return to the ER three times from uncontrolled bleeding. I hated showering while I was so miserable, so I probably didn’t smell or look that great either.

I was as unlovable as one could be. I was angsty, uncomfortable, and I was showing it. My poor mother was working with a wretch of a child (at least for that moment).

After one particularly bad vomiting spell, I went back to lay on the couch. Despite the blood on my chin and probably on my shirt, my mom looked over at me and said,

Erik, I want you to know that I love you. And that no matter what happens or where you go in life, I will always love you.

I don’t know what prompted her to say that. I was blown away – and it was about the first time that I understood, on an emotional and spiritual level, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” When my mother said “I will always love you…no matter what,” I felt a deep yearning to do right by my mother. A desire to show her that same respect and love. I knew that I was probably going to disappoint her when she found out that I was dating men, but I wanted to live my life in general in a way that she would be proud of.

This moment was also the first time in a long time that I had felt God’s peace. I believe He spoke His love through and with my mother. My mother was able to channel and directly show how God loved, unconditionally and in a way that produces a desire to follow Him. At that moment, I decided and made a pact that I would try my best to be a disciple of Christ. While the Church might not agree with how my discipleship looks like, I’ve felt supported and encouraged by God that this is His path for me.

That experience was already typical of my mother. I heard her declarations of love to me many times, but when she did it at a moment when I felt so unworthy and disconnected from love, it affected me at my core: spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

When I told her and the rest of my family that I was dating men, it followed many more discussions, disagreements, and even some arguments. We prayed and studied together about this, the Church, and many other topics. After one prayer, she turned towards me and said, “I know you and I are going to be together in heaven.”

Mom started asking me questions about my life, about my goals, about my path. She realized not much had changed: I wanted what I had always wanted. It’s just that now a man was in the picture instead of a woman. I wanted a family, I wanted to serve others, and I wanted a sliding ladder on a bookshelf. It was all the same. Mom read Tom Christofferson’s book, That We May Be One, and said she realized she had been trying to force me into what she assumed was God’s plan for me rather than trusting that I was already in God’s plan.

A week before my mother passed, I asked her what lessons she had learned over the past year. It had been an extremely difficult one fighting cancer and the awful side-effects that came from chemo. I assumed she would tell me a lesson on patience or endurance. Instead, she said: “I need to thank you. Because you living how you needed to live and how God wanted you to live*, I learned so much about love and the Plan. I learned how to love more deeply and more widely, even if I disagree or don’t understand. I learned that the Plan of Happiness is wider and more encompassing than I could ever imagine.”

My mother wasn’t perfect just as I wasn’t perfect. We didn’t lead a magical road without conflict or trouble. On the contrary, our journey was messy: with blood, vomit, disagreement, tears, prayers, fights, and grumpy “I still love you” texts. But that my mom stayed on that road with me even though it was full of trials was how she loved. She could honestly and deeply say, “I love you,” despite the lowest lows. And it’s because she was with my and saying “I love you” during those lows that I truly and deeply felt the love she wanted to express.

The moral of the story isn’t necessarily that she agreed with me. I don’t think my mother ever fully understood how everything would work out (and I still don’t). But that she loved me through all of this to be with me during all of this.

My mother’s messy love taught me so much about God’s love. He sits with us during the darkest moments to say: I love you, no matter where you go. His Plan includes an infinite amount of paths and journeys – each with different lessons for us to learn.

Before mom passed, I also asked her what her slogan would be if she ran for president. She said: “Make Each Other Great.” Obviously, this is a play on “Make America Great Again,” but the way my mother and God love exemplifies this. I am a better person because of my mother. I am more whole, more compassionate, more willing to sit in the messiness of other people’s lives. And in my work with LGBTQ Mormons, this is a lesson all families can learn: a mother’s messy love.

Note: * While I am confident that this is God’s path for me, I do not believe it to be God’s path for every LGBTQ person. When I did my MA research and catalogued the varied experiences of LGBTQ/SSA Mormons, there was no overall consensus of God’s will for all His LGBTQ children. Most of these people had spiritual confirmations that their path was what God wanted, from celibacy to mixed-orientation marriages to dating the same-sex to a gender transition. What was important for those people was an openness to what God’s path may be for them.

And I would hope that readers would not see this and think that those who are celibate are blinded by religion or that those who are dating the same-sex are deceived. I had no reason to doubt the sincerity of their spiritual directives.


Playing the Rules vs Playing the Game

Playing the Rules – World Cup Version

Another World Cup has passed with some exciting moments and some … flopping. For those who avoid soccer, flopping is when players try to dramatize falling to the ground to have the ref call a foul and give their team a penalty. Neymar, the Brazilian star, became quite the sensational meme and soccer teams around the world are “doing the Neymar” by falling ridiculously to the ground. Flopping has been criticized for a variety of reasons, whether as deceptive or as an affront to masculine norms of ‘machismo’. However, there’s a logic to it – doing so at the right time and with the right dramatization can provide quite the advantage in the game.

Yet – in my opinion – it’s also a tactic that breaks up the game. The rules of soccer are there to manage the game and protect the players from fouls, but players like Neymar are making the game about the rules. They dribble into players, hoping to catch them off-guard, hoping to be tripped and draw the foul. If they don’t get fouled, they want to be close enough that if they take the fall themselves, it will look like a foul (1). Rather than showing their own skills of the game, they so their skills of manipulating the rules. By playing the rules rather than playing the game, you lose the art and essence of soccer (and all sports). Continue reading

The Not-So-New First Presidency: Defending the Status Quo

As everyone probably has seen, the new Prophet of the LDS Church made waves today by not retaining Elder Uchtdorf as one of his counselors. I had been hoping for keeping the same two, I loved both Presidents Uchtdorf and Eyring. My mother had hoped they would call Elder Christofferson after reading Tom Christofferson’s book That We May Be One. Instead, President Nelson brought up Elder Oaks, the Apostle called at the same time as him and likely the next Prophet as well. As many Mormons lamented throughout today on social media, this seems to mark a decision for retrenchment for the near-future of the Church. The discussion in yesterday’s broadcast and news conference did little to provide marginalized members of the Church any hope for change. Instead, the First Presidency spoke to defend the status quo rather than provide a vision for something better.

My reaction to this is similar to the feeling I have when I played soccer and I realized that someone had just kicked a ball straight at my face. I’m powerless. All I can do is tense up, clench my fists and scrunch my eyes, and wait for the impact. The most likely scenario: I’ll end up with a bloody nose or black eye. Maybe – JUST MAYBE – the ball will miss me. But instead, I’ll probably be knocked out. Continue reading

Ending the “Culture vs. Doctrine” Distinction

This last Sunday, I was fortunate to hop on the train to church with a good friend of mine in the ward. As happens with us, the conversation turned to questions of the LDS Church and experiences of people living on the margins. This conversation happened to revolve around our shared disdain towards “Single-Adult” (SA) wards or even “Young Single-Adult” YSA wards. [That subject alone can fill the pages of many a blog post.]

My friend discussed how the Church doesn’t know what to do with single members and puts them in SA wards as if it was a forgotten backroom storage unit. And whether or not you agree with that designation, it made me think:

It’s become the norm in the church to relegate anything undesirable to this amorphous thing called “culture”. As a sociologist, I recognize how awfully nondescript this term can be. A fun project for the future might be analyzing how Mormons use culture and what they think it means. However, I might take a stab at what it might be (although this is notably premature as I have done nothing analytical to arrive at this conclusion-it’s simply a hunch). Continue reading

What it Feels Like…

As I was going to sleep, I started thinking what tomorrow’s church would be like as I often do. This will be the “post-conference” week, so I imagine EQ/RS lessons will largely be discussions of which talks were are favorite, what impressions we had, and the importance of following the prophet.

I dread tomorrow.

This is the Sunday of the worst platitudes Mormonism has to offer. People will say they were so glad that Elder Holland talked about how all voices in God’s kingdom matter. Someone might say they liked Elder Renlund’s talk on sin because they felt he was talking to them and they needed to know that Christ felt past their sin. The class will probably make a joke about whether or not Elder Uchtdorf used a flying metaphor.

I started reflecting on why I dread tomorrow–four years ago, I’d be the one exclaiming how much I loved conference as well. And tonight as I thought about it, I realized it’s partly because it’s hard to talk about how ‘applicable’ conference is or how ‘it was as if the leaders knew me’ when that’s exactly the opposite of how I feel. At least in this moment, it’s hard to imagine that any of the Apostles or other leaders of the Church–maybe even my family and friends–understand how I feel. Continue reading

For a Progressive Mormonism

As a Mormon who acts and believes perhaps on the fringe of what is socially acceptable to be or act Mormon, I am often faced with remarks or questions like, “But don’t you believe that we are led by prophets and apostles?” OR “I believe that the Brethren aren’t out to get anyone, so what comes from them must be good.” OR “We’ve been promised that the prophets will never lead us astray. So I think we’d all do well to remember that.”

However, strikingly absent from this discussion is the fallibility of man, even our prophet and apostles. (For a thorough and conservative discussion of this, see this FAIR Mormon’s report on it.) This creates an important question: in what ways are the leaders of the church fallible? And while I’d love to write about this question, I’ll save that for a later date or for someone else. But, I’ll write a quick blurb on what I think is going on before getting to the topic of progressive Mormonism.
Continue reading

The Problems of Eliminating ‘Identity’

During the last couple of months, we’ve had a number of specific responses to what I am going to call the “gay question” by three apostles: Elders Nelson, Bednar, and, most recently, Holland. All three have been prompted by either individual members or a growing voice of discontent, rightfully so, to specifically address the LGBTQ+ population in the church (although, this is usually framed as “same-sex attraction” or something more watered down). While Nelson’s talk, which framed the recent policy towards same-sex marriage as the will of the Lord merits discussion, I will be focusing on the responses of the Elders Bednar and Holland. Continue reading