27 August 2015

Inviting Variance

When I came out, my world fell apart. Somewhat literally, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Like a shattered mirror, the shards of what I had crashed to the ground.

And for years I've left them there. I struggled, I fought, I tried to find a place where I could have that mirror again. And then, it was too much. I did not have the energy or strength or resolve to pick up each shard one by one, re-examine them, find where they'd fit again, and put the mirror back together. It'd never be unbroken again anyway. It would always just be shards taped back together. Eventually, I had to abandon it and walk away because it was going to literally kill me. I was so conflicted and unhappy and I think some of the struggle is articulated in my archives.

When I left, the last thing on my mind was that I would return. I was done. Chapter over. Door closed. Seal the box, set fire to the books, don't ever look back.

My loss has been SO GREAT. I don't know that I'll ever be able to depict accurately so that someone who hasn't walked where I've walked, or felt what I've felt, will understand. I lost everything. It hurt then. It hurts now. Ten years later, and that pain is still there. It's like a giant chasm in the middle of my world. An ugly scarred piece of Earth that will never be repaired.

Any time I look at Mormonism, that is there. When I interact with cousins or friends who are still active, it's there. When I see mission buddies I've unfriended on facebook interacting with one another, continuing the brotherhood we had in the mission field so long ago, it's there. When I see pictures of the temple, or people sharing talks, or reviewing conference, it's there. Even more, I am haunted by the shattered hopes of my parents, of their continued desire even after almost a decade of knowing me as a gay person, that I will somehow magically love a woman and marry her. Ow. The things I was scared would happen when I first came out, did. Everything burned to the ground, people turned their backs, and I also turned mine. People tried and failed to understand and so I chucked them out with the used belief water. But I remember. I still mourn. I have not moved on. I still think of all my converts I've cut out. The people from my mission who are so important to me, even if I can't show them that. The friends from college. The mission buddies. How many bridges I burned because the cognitive dissonance within myself was barely containable. And whenever my pain flared and I was reminded of my loss in a way I wasn't prepared for, it was too much. I severed so many connections and friendships and lives out of a wounded sense of self-preservation. At that time I didn't know what else to do. I've been hurt, I've been ravaged, I've been angry. That hasn't stopped.

Many leave and move on. I guess I'm just not one of them. Back in June I cried for the Church's response to the Supreme Court ruling. I wasn't sad when E. Packer died. I wasn't. People get mad, they get angry, they get disillusioned, they fight the church, they do close the doors and set fire to the whole house. I just don't have it in me, I guess. If I knew how, I think I would've already quit the Church. Forever.

Around Christmas last year, when I was alone by myself in this foreign country, unable to afford a ticket home to see my family, I looked at some of my loss. I missed my community. I missed living in an apartment complex at BYU where you knew everyone in every apartment, whether or not your were friends and interacted often. Here I don't even know the people next door, let alone above or below. I missed having people who believed some of the stuff I still do too, though that's its own muddled mess. I reached out to an exchange student I knew was Mormon and I took her in. I went with her to a Mormon Messages night some Senior Missionaries held for YSA, recent converts, and investigators. I struggled. I grappled. Could I re-enter these spaces?

Most of the time it doesn't even seem worth it. Why bother? I tell myself. Every step you take back toward that place that injured you is a step closer to Church Discipline and just being kicked right back out the door. Why continue trying to create a space in a place that just doesn't want you?

I felt comfortable at Mormon Messages, though I was still pained whenever marriage entered the discussion or something was offered that reflected ignorance or misunderstanding. I never intended to take it beyond that. But some of the investigators found value in my experiences, they felt heartened, they felt the spirit. So did I. But how would I navigate further?

In my wrestles, I came across this devotional by JGW of Young Stranger. I followed his blog a bit back in my stronger days of blogging, but not diligently. This devotional struck me. Like a spear straight to my heart. I was stunned by its impact. I have a boyfriend. We're happy. Happier than I've ever been, if I'm honest. And then this comes along like a wrecking ball. And I felt EXACTLY like JGW. Why now? Why does this have to happen NOW? The timing is so completely inconvenient. And what am I meant to do? Break up with him? I...*slow, breath out with puffed cheeks*... This is really hard.

I feel upended. Just when some surety was making its way into my life, upheaval. Again. Is my pendulum really swinging back the other way so quickly? I worry about the caution given in James 1:6-8 "But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." I feel tossed, I feel double-minded. I have this cognitive dissonance and I'm not sure how to resolve it. But I'm driven to as INSIDE documented here and here.

Setting everything else aside, including the myriad questions threatening to push back in and unbalance me, I resolved to do as JGW did. "The Lord gave me an invitation, and that was all. No explanations, no detailed roadmap. Just an invitation. [...] All the Lord had invited me to do was to come back to Church. He was asking no grand gestures of me other than simply to come. He did not say, 'Leave your partner and come.' He said just come." So I started going back to Church.

And with that came the variances, the dissonances, the wondering how to make this all work together again. Except this time I'm coming at it from the other side. I'm already pretty much out. Before I was trying with everything I was worth to stay in. Now I'm not. I'm seeing if there's a way to create a space for me from a post-orthodox faith worldview. I don't hate myself anymore. I don't think I'm twisted and wrong anymore. I know what love is. I know what happy is. I'm not going to abandon those things. I don't know the way forward. Again. I'm in the dark, taking one step at a time. But this time I'm not worried about it. I'm not freaking out about every single bit of that darkness, wondering and wondering and stressing.

It will work, or it won't. I'm going at my pace, on my terms.

I've started having the missionaries over, which has reminded me of my own mission. I've walked again the pages of my journal, and the pain of the loss IS there, but so is the fire. The fire of the gospel and everything it's meant - and means - to me. On their first visit they went into "teaching mode" and started trying to draw out feelings from me. "What was it like setting foot inside a chapel again? How did that make you feel?"

My hand went up. "Stop, Elder. We're not going there. This isn't about dredging up old feelings that have been buried. About reminding me of the way that I felt, and forgot. It's not like that." I don't know that I've ever really abandoned my testimony. I don't know that I ever stopped believing. In some things. Like I said, the shattered shards are still lying there in a pile without being sifted, analyzed, and placed back.

I can feel fire in myself to help others and share Jesus' love, but there are fine lines, and one step on the wrong side of those lines and you're mired in my doubts and hesitations and inconsistencies and all my reservations with sharing the gospel to others, the reasons I broke with the Church in the first place... they come back.

I realize I am choosing to live in precariousness. In fragility. In the midst of something that shouldn't, often doesn't, work. I realize this. I accept the invitation.

Every time I seem to start to waver and backpedal from my invitation, JGW is there and has walked this path. He has gone before me and shown the way. He may not be popular with everyone, but each path is different, and that I remember. That I account for. But for me, JGW and I seem to walking the same path.
--I can't take the sacrament or use priesthood. It's like attending an institution where my returning means they chop off my hands. So why go? Because I can participate without partaking. I have my own offerings.

--"People have been brutalized by the Church. You can say, 'Well that was just some people. They weren't really living the Gospel.' And that may well be true. But there's also a core challenge that relates to Church doctrine and policies and procedures and mores. To experience excommunication because you have chosen to pursue something as core to human happiness as love and intimate human connection is brutal, no matter how kind a face you try to put on it."

--"I can say that embracing my faith as a Latter-day Saint and choosing to be active in a Church where I remain excommunicated is the opposite of masochism or self-denigration. For me it is a profound affirmation of my humanity. It is an insistence that I am a child of God and I belong in his kingdom."

--"For the LGBT person -- despite all the obstacles and adversity they may face -- to be active in the Church is to redeem the Church from homophobia and transphobia. It is to insist that those things are not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about."

So I'm here. I'm going again. I'm hanging out with the Elders again. I'm trying to follow the example JGW has set for me, and Christ before him. I am remembering to love. I am remembering the people I have lost. I am continuing to mourn. I am continuing to wrestle the dissonances presenting themselves as obstacles in my life. I am continuing to find ways to be uplifted and inspired. I am continuing to dialogue with my parents (very slowly, that's a topic for another post though). I am trying to find a way to be faithful, without compromising my happiness. I left for almost 5 years to find health and happiness, and now that I have them, I'm trying to find a way back without losing all of that. Some would argue it's not possible; that I'm completely deceived; that the happiness I have isn't real, it's just wickedness... I've heard it all and I don't care. I will not be moved. I am trying, and that's more important than not.

"A Saint is someone who repents one more time than they sin." - Stephen E. Robinson

There is much more to do still. Many do not know I'm gay in my ward. I haven't told anyone about my boyfriend. I have yet to meet the Bishop. I don't know how the ward will accept me as they get to know me better. I don't know if I'll ever find a way to feel love and understanding from my parents. The unknowns beckon me, but the biggest difference is: I'm not afraid of them anymore.

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