Church talk by Tammy Hinkley given 3.9.2014
Thanks for making me feel so welcome in your ward when I have not been very active in it. Many of you have visited me and brought me things. This has meant a lot to me. This is supposed to be a get-acquainted talk, so let me give you some background on myself, which I don’t usually like doing, but if I don’t give you the background you won’t understand the more important stuff later.
I was born in Salt Lake and grew up here until I went on a mission in my mid-20s, which made me older than most sister missionaries and yes, I was the oldest Sister in my mission except for the mission president’s wife. After my mission I moved to Provo to find a husband, and didn’t get out of there for 40 years because I did find one. From there. And he didn’t move. Like many other couples, we met at BYU, but unlike most others, neither of us was a student. He was faculty and I was working as a legal secretary in Provo for my mission president, who had by then been released. We were lined up by a mutual friend, and there’s a story there but we’ll skip that. So yes, sometimes blind dates do work. We stayed married until he died, so ours worked.
I was always a late bloomer. I was 28 when we got married, and since we got started late we both expected to have children right off, but like so many other things in my life, that didn’t work out as expected, either. We tried every medical procedure known to man and had only a series of miscarriages until I turned 35 and we just gave up. Then four years later – with no medical intervention whatsoever – we had a beautiful baby girl, and a mere 14 months after she was born we had a beautiful baby boy.
And yes, I was 40 by then if you’re counting, so here I am, a brand new mom at age 40 with not one but two babies to keep up with, and my husband gets called as bishop. Don’t try to tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. However, his sense of humor can be tinged with irony, and it certainly was in our case, considering what happened later.
My son stopped attending church when he was 14, and he was Teachers Quorum President at the time. One Sunday he just refused to pass the sacrament and left – walked home. Of course I went after him. And I remember his very words when I asked him what was going on. He said: “I don’t think I should officiate in the ordinances of a religion I don’t believe is true.” I felt like I’d been struck in the face – gobsmacked, as they say in England.
I responded with: “How can you not believe it?” But what I meant was: This breaks every promise the church ever made to families. We have taught you the gospel. We have taken you to church every Sunday. We have had family prayer and family scripture study and family home evening. We served in church callings. We went to the temple. We even went to stake conference! We lived our testimonies and our children “knew we knew it.” How could he not know it too?
But that was just the beginning. He came out to me a year later, sitting at our kitchen table at 3:00 in the morning after a long, desperate night of me begging him to tell me what was wrong. And when he finally said the two words that changed our lives forever – “I’m gay” – I basically justified all his fears by reacting pretty much as he was afraid I would. I did not handle it well. I did not handle it so well that he ran away from home when he was 17 – and stayed away for two years. I feel lucky that he survived, lucky that he’s not dead.
This time it wasn’t just a smack in the face; it was more like a full-body slam from a swinging boom that knocked me right off the boat. And nobody threw me a lifeline. It seemed there were none to be had.
I struggled with this for about three years before my daughter thought it was safe to tell me she was gay too. Yes, I have 100% gay children. This time, though, I saw it coming and handled it better than with my son. She didn’t feel the need to run away, and my son, when he saw how I had changed, thought it safe to come home again – not physically but emotionally, and we had a relationship again.
With my husband now too disabled to sit through three hours of church (he’d suffered a spinal injury and also had Parkinson’s Disease) and my children having left the church, I stopped going myself. My husband’s needs worked as my official excuse, but I knew that wasn’t the real reason, and I knew that God knew it too.
It was just too painful to be reminded every week of what I had lost.
My husband died 3½ years ago now, and it was a blessing for him. He was in a lot of pain for the last five years of his life, and I was happy for him to be out of it. Sometimes I still envy him, graduating early. For a couple of years after he died, I had a pretty good time living on my own. I worked a part-time job that gave me the flexibility to travel a lot: I went to the West Coast, I went to the East Coast, I went to the Gulf Coast, I went to Europe, …I didn’t go north, though. But last year my knees became so painful that I decided to have them both replaced, and my sister who lives here in Salt Lake volunteered to be my caregiver while I recovered, if I would move in with her. So this is when I moved back to Salt Lake after 40 years in Redneckville in Utah County – after my first knee replacement in February of last year.
Now, as it happens, my sister is also gay (I’ll never believe there is no genetic link) and she and her wife made me feel so welcome in their home that we decided I should just stay forever, so we bought a bigger house and moved in there last May. This turned out to be Bishop Maloy’s house on Lake Street, and this is where you’ll find me most the time because I’m still using my knees as an excuse for not doing stuff. (My sister and sister-in-law are actually friendlier people than I am, so you need not worry if they answer the door if you come over.)
That’s my background; now for the important stuff. Recently, when I was railing at God – again – about the plate He’d handed me, this huge conflict I’m still struggling with, I got an answer in actual words. Five of them, to be precise. He said, “Can you deny your growth?”
Once I got over my surprise at hearing this, I recognized it as an answer from God because, as you may have noticed, it wasn’t really an answer; it was a question.
But I found that I couldn’t deny it. I couldn’t say nothing had changed. Ihave changed, and evidently He thinks I’ve changed for the better. Naturally this made me examine how I’ve changed. I identified three important things:
First, I’m less judgmental. I’m more willing to cut people some slack, except maybe when I’m driving. I smile at kids with tattoos and blue hair, because one of them may be my son. I don’t consider anyone unworthy of my interest anymore. That’s sounds priggish, but I used to be like that. I used to be BIG on maintaining my own holiness by keeping the unworthy at arm’s length. I called it “judging righteous judgment” and could defend it from the scriptures, or so I thought. Now I think compassion and forgiveness are much more important in the overall scheme of things than I suspected.
Second, I’ve become more flexible. And I needed that. Not that I had much choice.
After my daughter came out, she gave me a big plaque that says “Life is all about how you handle Plan B.” In actuality it may be Plan D or E or FFF, but the point is:
you have to know when to let go of your precious Plan A in order to save a relationship, or to save a person. And people are always the most important thing. Always.
Third, I’ve dropped the middleman from my relationship with God. I no longer expect the church to fill all my needs or have all the answers for me. In fact, when the church failed me at the greatest spiritual crisis of my family’s life, I discovered – to my surprise – that God did not. In fact, I felt His presence nearer and His comfort sooner than before, if anything.
While I was pondering all this, a character in a TV show said something that impressed me so much I wrote it down. (Those of you who watch Lark Rise to Candleford will recognize Dorcas Lane in this.) She said, to another in spiritual crisis: “Your faith does not depend upon you impressing the bishop…. It is yours. It lies beside you on your pillow at night. It comforts you when there is no human comfort to be found. Your faith has stayed and sustained you through many trials. It has sustained others too.” I now realize that my faith is between me and God, not between me and an organization or me and the bishop or me and my mother, and that it has comforted me when there was “no human comfort to be found.”
I used to be so sure of many things I’m not so sure of now. Even to me, this sounds more like losing ground than gaining it, but it seems to have made me a nicer person: less judgmental, more compassionate, less rigid, more flexible, maybe even more likeable. (I never really was all that likeable.) And it comforts me that my Heavenly Father calls this “growth” instead of smiting me with lightning. It makes me think maybe He planned it this way and maybe He really does know what He’s doing.
Let me close with a verse from Proverbs that also means a lot to me:
“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”