By Maurie Tarbox
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Sunday morning. A Sunday morning that started out like any other Sunday morning in our Utah home, but ended with an experience that will have changed me and many others. This being the first Sunday of the month, I went to the kitchen to pour a bowl of cereal and remembered this was Fast Sunday. A day in which we sacrifice two meals and give the money we would have spent on those meals to offerings to the poor.
I also had much on my mind, so many prayers were offered in silence to keep my mind off my growling stomach: a daughter in Chicago with her fiancé auditioning for grad-school, a son struggling with the repercussions of an addiction, and a gay friend who was on the brink of suicide 2 days ago, were among the few items on a long list of prayers. I’ve decided that a mother’s prayer is never short.
We arrived at church a few minutes early, which is only because I didn’t have breakfast. The meeting was lovely. Testimonies were shared and accepted. We adjourned and moved on to the next part of our meetings. I teach the 17 year olds, which is a new calling for me. I am astounded by the youth of today. They are thoughtful, exuberant, and full of curiosity. They have so much to face in the world, but seem to be blessed with added strength and courage to face those challenges.
Then on to Relief Society, the women’s meeting. My 21 year old daughter didn’t want to go. “That class is for old ladies,” is always her excuse for not attending. After a little coaxing, I talked her into attending with me. It was Super Bowl Sunday after all, and I was putting together a great meal that some of her best friends were going to help devour later that evening. I think coming to class was the least she could do for me!
Opening song, opening prayer, and a quick announcement. Then the Bishop took the stand to present the lesson. “I have a letter that was written by the First Presidency of the Church,” he said. “I’ll read the letter, then open it up for discussion.” It was a letter stating the Church’s stand on gay marriage.
My daughter leaned over and whispered, “Can we leave?”
“No, we’ll stay.” This is going to be interesting, I thought.
The initial comments were kind, appropriate, and conforming to the statement of the letter. I knew I needed to say something. So I raised my hand.
“I work in the Musical Theater department at a University. The theater, for some reason, is a place that holds many gay and lesbian students. I see, talk, and interact with these students everyday. I hear their struggles. I listen to their cries of anguish. I have seen young men disowned by their family, and have no place to go. I have taken care of the wounds of young people who have been physically abused by family members because they were gay.” With tears streaming down my cheeks, I continued, “I cannot know the heartache of these young people, but one thing I do know is that they need to be loved. I have lived my life, centered, and built my testimony upon Christ. I want His words to be my words, and His actions to be my actions. I am grateful for a living prophet. I believe he guides the affairs of the Church. But what do you say to a young man who has served a faithful LDS Mission and comes to you and says, ‘I have announced to my friends that I am gay. Will you please call my parents?’ How sad that these young people have been pushed away, or filled with fear so that they cannot even go to those who are suppose to love them unconditionally! I have had these young people in my home, have fed them, and have given them a place to sleep when they have no where to go. I think they come to me because I am a strong LDS member, and it’s what they want and hope for in their own families. It’s what they know and have been raised with. They also know I won’t judge, but I will be honest with them. I don’t know what the future will be, but I do know that if we call ourselves Christians, we need to show the kind of love Christ would have.”
A woman who has a handicapped child spoke next. “Why should we have to choose sides? Why can’t love be the answer? There is discrimination all around us. I believe if we all loved as we should, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
Another woman commented. “Many of you may not know that I was married to a man who is now gay. We had two children together. This subject has been extremely hard for my kids. My children love their father and his partner, and find it difficult to watch their sadness. They want what we have. A family, acceptance, and love. I’m not sure if the gay marriage thing is right, but it is certainly hard to watch the anguish of my children and the relationship with their father.”
The next comments were geared back toward what was stated in the letter. Someone said, “Those people should respect us and our way of life. We need to stand firm in our beliefs. The family is most important. We shouldn’t have to change for them.”
I spoke again, “Those people are us. They are not the devil or the evil ones. Just like any other group of people…a few can give a bad name to many who are good. Can’t we find it in our hearts to offer love to all the children of God?”
I could feel my daughter becoming more and more agitated. She leaned over and said, “Can I say something? If I don’t agree with the Church, will I be kicked out?”
I told her she could say whatever was in her heart and it would be okay. The meeting was just about over when my 21 year old daughter (the youngest in the class that day) raised her hand. With all the strength and courage she could muster from her shy inside she said, “I love this Church! I want it to be part of my life forever! (Then the tears…) But I don’t believe God would want anyone to go through this life without someone by their side. (Deep breaths…) He doesn’t expect me to be anything other than myself. So why would we expect that of anyone else? I spent 2 months in Ghana working in an orphanage. I saw hundreds of children without parents. Isn’t a male and a male, or a female and a female better than no parent? Any of the children I saw would be happy to have any kind of family. One of my best friends is a lesbian. I felt I wouldn’t be a very good friend if I didn’t say something. Like I said, I love this Church! But I don’t think Heavenly Father wants anyone to feel alone.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in that room. This young girl with the courage of a lion said what half of us were feeling, but were too frightened to say. And she said it in front of the Bishop and all the “old ladies.” No one could argue. No one could give a rebuttal. All we could do was sit in awe and wonder. Needless to say, I was a very proud mother. As we sang the closing song “We’ll Bring The World His Truth” (very fitting), I leaned over and asked if she wanted to slip out quietly. (We were both a mess from the tears we shed.) She shook her head, “No, I’m okay.” The closing prayer was offered and we were dismissed. The out-pouring of love that happened next was indescribable. My daughter was mobbed with the hugs of so many. There was one young woman who seemed to hold her for a very long time with tears streaming down her cheeks. I asked my daughter what she said to her. “Thank you. Thank you,” is all that could come from her lips. I told my daughter that this woman probably has someone very close to her who is struggling with same sex attraction. I believe my daughter gave this woman hope…as she did to all who had an open heart that day.
I think the Bishop was somewhat stunned, but his comment to my daughter was true and kind. “You are right, you wouldn’t be a good friend if you didn’t say something.”
There were women who couldn’t get to my daughter, but whispered to me as they passed by. “Tell her thank you.” “Oh my, how very brave!” And from the woman who had been married to a gay man, and was a former Young Women’s leader of my daughter’s: “I don’t think I’ve ever loved her more than I do right now.”
Even though shy, my daughter has always had a stubborn streak. I counseled her at a very young age that this gift from God was to be understood and used wisely. I believe she is just now beginning to see how it can be used for good.
After a day of thinking about this experience, I realize that the reason it was received so well is because it came directly from my daughter’s heart. She wasn’t on a “soap box.” She wasn’t trying to make a dramatic point. She hadn’t planned what she would say. She was herself. And isn’t that what God wants us to be?