by Rachel Manwaring
I am so grateful to be here to speak this morning and for everyone who’s here today. I want to especially express my gratitude for those of you who are here this morning with a little trepidation, feeling a little nervous or anxious or maybe like a fish out of water. I think it should be recognized how admirable and selfless it is to step out of your comfort zone and learn more about a topic that might be a little uncomfortable for you. Maybe you are curious or maybe you are desperate or maybe somewhere in between….whatever brings you here, thank you! I hope and pray that as we meet together today we each will feel the spirit testify to us those things that our loving Father in Heaven wants us to hear and that our hearts and minds will be turned to Him.
I will first say that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed and pleaded so hard with the Lord to direct my words and I’m so grateful for the answers I’ve received as I’ve prepared this talk. In some ways I feel like I’ve been preparing this very talk for the last 10 years. Which brings me to how I became involved with the LDS/LGBT-SSA issue.
I met my husband, Jonathan 14 years ago in Idaho where we were both living. He was the 7th of 8 children in a very strong, faithful LDS family. His younger brother Jamison was serving a mission at the time we met and so I didn’t get the chance to meet him until after we had been married for 1 1/2 yrs. All I ever heard about Jamison from my husband and all of the other family members was how amazing he was….in every way. Every girl wanted to date him, every guy wanted to be him sort of guy. I remember Jonathan describing him as taking every good quality of all his brother’s and sister’s and wrapping them up into one person. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to meet him and I once I did I knew exactly what everyone was talking about. Jamison still to this day is every bit how his family had described him.
A few years and a few babies later, Jamison and our little family both found ourselves living in Arizona together. We would get together often and he became a very present part of our little family. Shortly after we had moved Jamison told us that he was in fact same sex attracted. We were shocked to say the least. I remember feeling like I wanted him to be around us all of the time just to remind myself that he hasn’t changed and was still the same Jamison that I had always known. There was a lot of prayer, ponder and fasting that went into the next few months as we all embarked on this new journey together. Some of the most spiritual, tender experiences I’ve had in my life occurred during that time.
A short while after Jamison had come out to us, we were all sitting around their parent’s home watching old home videos. I can remember a part in the particular video when Jamison popped his cute little rosy cheeked, toothless face into the camera and said something silly with a smile and then ran and jumped into the pool. He was probably around 7 or 8 at the time and was so cheerful and happy. I remember thinking that that sweet little boy was going to come to a few hard realizations in another few years. I thought of him going through life the next 15 years or so trying to make sense and reconcile his sexuality with his faith. I thought of the difficulty in his path and the thought of him carrying the burden all alone was almost too hard. At that very moment I wished that I had a time machine that would allow me to travel back and hold his hand and walk with him through his journey. I distinctly remember thinking that NO ONE should ever have to be alone.
I’ve titled my talk, “I’ll Walk With You” after one of my very favorite primary songs. To me that is what we are each asked to do as family members, ward members and human beings, to walk with each other. It seems so simple and yet somehow we allow other things to complicate it. We so often get caught up in wanting to declare what we believe or announce what we approve or disapprove of. And although I believe that there may be a time and a place for such things, it should never come above what we know to be the two greatest commandments which are,
“To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
President Monson often refers in his talks to this life as a journey and us as the travelers. In his very most recent conference address he talked about these first 2 commandments and he said:
“We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters. As we keep this truth in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.”
I love the imagery that we are all on this journey together walking with each other, helping one another along the way, making the path a little easier. In another of President Monson’s talks a few years ago he said,
“Along your pathway of life you will observe that you are not the only traveler. There are others who need your help. There are feet to steady, hands to grasp, minds to encourage, hearts to inspire, and souls to save.”
I know that is what we are asked to do. I hear this same message as I listen to so many primary songs and hymns. We recently had stake conference and our family sang with a family choir. One of the songs we sang was, “He Sent His Son”….with this talk on my mind I was so touched as we sang the words,
“What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say?
Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way.”
This is what we are asked to do….what He wants us to do. We each come to this life with different experiences and it is our job to help each other, to love and lift one another and not judge. One of my very favorite quotes from President Monson was from yet another one of his talks where he mentions our life journey. He said,
“Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life.”
I don’t think I could ever say it more clear than what he has said.
I want you to know that this isn’t something I’ve always been good at and I don’t profess that it’s always easy to do. There was a time after Jamison came out that I wanted to make sure he knew what I believed. In one of our conversations I said, “I just don’t want you to give up.” I thought my intentions were all good. He said to me, “I don’t know what you mean by that, but your and my ideas of giving up are very different”. He was right. In my mind I had this idea of what “giving up” might look like and for him it was VERY different. That night I prayed so hard. I wanted to know exactly what my role was in all of this, what was my job. That night I got it. I got it in a way I hadn’t before and I understood exactly what I needed to do and who I needed to be. That next morning I was able to share with Jamison the answer I had received to my prayer. I promised him that I would love and support him in whatever path his life would take. I cannot explain the weight lifted off my shoulders once I understood what that meant. I cannot explain the feeling inside me as I felt true unconditional love.
I was recently talking with an incredible sister in my stake who I thought put it so perfectly. She is the mother of 3 children, all of whom are gay. She has raised all of her children in a strong, faithful, LDS home….doing all of the things she knew she should do…family scripture study, family prayer, going to church, activities, FHE, etc. Each of her 3 children came out to her around the same time. She said that after her 3rd child did, she called a family meeting and sat them all on the couch. Her words were, “Look, I believe this life is a test and if that’s the case then I’m going to get an ‘A’. For me that means that I’m going to love and support each one of you no matter what. Whatever grade you are going to get is between you and the Lord.” We have been taught over and over that we can each only answer for ourselves and how we live our own lives and we have to allow others to do the same.
I thought Elder Scott gave some great counsel in conference, He said,
“We must be sure to sincerely love those we want to help so they can begin to develop confidence in God’s love. Giving them confidence in your love can help them develop faith in God’s love….As a companion to that love, trust them. In some cases it may seem difficult to trust, but find some way to trust them. The children of Father in Heaven can do amazing things when they feel trusted.”
We have to love and we have to trust even when we may not completely understand.
The more I learn the more I realize that this is not a one size fits all issue. There are different paths and directions people may take and it’s not up to me if I agree or disagree with what someone does….it is up to them and the Lord. Last year at this conference Bob Rees said something that really made sense to me.
“In the Church there are three options for someone who is gay or lesbian: 1) marry someone of the opposite sex to whom you may not be physically attracted and with whom you have no desires for sexual intimacy; 2) remain celibate for the duration of your life; 3) marry someone of your own gender and risk being excommunicated or excluded from Church fellowship. Whichever of these options you choose, you deserve (and need) the acceptance, support, and especially love of your fellow saints, who are under covenant to include you in their circle of compassion, love and fellowship.”
Being LGBT-SSA in the church is not easy. I try to use my imagination, my Christlike imagination, as to what it might feel like. And although I can never fully understand, I know I need to try. When I try, I can better empathize and am better equipped to carry that burden and walk with my all of my brothers and sisters.
Reaching out to those in our families and wards is more than just a good idea, it’s the right thing to do. I want to share with you a few personal messages that I’ve received from individuals and I hope you can feel through their words why this is all so important.
“Facing the things I do in church on a regular basis can be hard to keep going. Church is supposed to be a refuge but when people attack who you are, it makes it a hostile environment. Then there are those who are accepting and loving. You are the ones that make it so many of us can go to church. You are the ones that give me hope that I have a place. You are some of the ones that keep me going in life and show me that death is not the answer. I can be myself. I don’t have to put on a character just to get through life. You show me that I am worthy of love and that I have worth. I can stay with the church and that I don’t have to leave it to find acceptance of who I am. I don’t have to change my lifestyle just to fit in.”
“It’s an unspeakable comfort to me emotionally and spiritually to know there are allies. We initially feel alone in the early parts of this journey, then find others like us, which is comforting. Then we meet allies and it’s magnified. You become part of a shield for us from the constant barrage of negativity we see and feel.”
“Occasionally, each of us sit through particularly painful or uncomfortable church meetings. Sometimes when that happens to me, I think somewhere in another ward there are friends like you. If I can borrow even a bit of strength from thoughts like that its worth it to me. That’s what good it does for me to have people like you walking by my side.”
“Feeling the love and acceptance from my family, friends, and ward members helped me believe that love truly CAN be unconditional. Believing in the unconditional love of others led me to more completely believe in the unconditional nature of God’s love. With these two things combined, the love of others and the love of God, it has become easier for me to learn unconditional love for myself. Loving myself more fully has then increased my ability to love others and to love God (the two great commandments). It has turned into a very elevating and exalting cycle.”
We all need each other for various reasons and at various times. We are all here together at this time for a purpose to learn and grow as one. President Monson said,“We will never regret the kind words spoken or the affection shown. Rather, our regrets will come if such things are omitted from our relationships with those who mean the most to us.” I believe that is true with all of my heart.
As I have reached out to my fellow LGBT / Same-Sex Attracted brothers and sisters I’ve learned something so valuable that I hope I can adequately share.
Through all of this and the individuals I’ve had the blessing to meet and “walk with”, it’s me who has been changed the most. It is I who has received more blessings than my heart can sometimes bear. As I am surrounded by examples of unconditional love, patience, long-suffering, humility, kindness, selflessness, faith, on and on….I recognize that I’m the one who is being ministered to, the one the most Christlike example has been set for. I am the one who needs to be healed and it is me who needs them in my life. Through their example I better understand that we truly have been created by our Father in Heaven with a purpose that only He knows that we are here to individually figure out. My faith has been increased as I have I have followed their example when I’ve felt like my world is collapsing and the only place I can turn is to God for answers. I can better feel the infinite power of the atonement in my life and have even more faith that it is big enough and perfect enough for all of us. Through all of this I know I have become a better wife, a better mother a better member of the church a better follower of Christ and a better child of God. When I think of who I’ve been able to become and all the incredible blessings that have come into my life through all of this, I am thankful every single day for being here and being involved in all of this. What a privilege, blessing and ultimate honor to walk along with my LGBT/SSA brothers and sisters. Thank you to them for loving and accepting me, exactly the way I am.
In closing I want to share with you a few verses to a song that was also just sung at our stake conference…..from the hymn, “Help Me Teach with Inspiration”
Fill my mind with understanding;
Tune my voice to echo thine.
Touch my hand with gentle friendship;
Warm my heart with love divine.
Help me find thy lambs who wander;
Help me bring them to thy keep.
Teach me, Lord, to be a shepherd;
Father, help me feed thy sheep.
ALL Are Alike Unto God Conference, April 2014