Early one morning my adult son called to ask if he and his boyfriend could come to church with me. It caught me off guard. I knew my son had not been to church in a very long time and I excitedly said, “Yes!” Then my thoughts raced, wondering, “What would people think?”
Our congregation had always shown kindness to my daughter who did not fit the “Mormon mold” with her nose ring, gauges, and now expecting a baby. Would they extend that same Christlike love toward my gay son? This was the ward he had grown up in, serving as the president of the deacons and teachers quorums as well as first assistant to the bishop in the priests quorum. And it’s the ward he delivered his mission homecoming report to. How would they perceive him now with a boyfriend? Would they slide over and make room for us on the pew? Would they stare and whisper when the sacrament bread and water was passed without them partaking? I was fine if those actions were directed at me, but the protective mother in me didn’t want those actions directed toward my children. More than anything right now, I wanted my children to feel welcomed and loved.
I reflected back to the day my son told his father and me that he was gay. I felt like the sky was falling. He was our third of seven children, and everything I thought my child’s life would look like changed in an instant. I grieved. I cried. I even had bouts of anger. How could this be happening? What was I supposed to do? As I went on a quest for answers, I discovered many answers aren’t neatly packaged in a Sunday School lesson. I had to dig and turn to the Lord, and what I discovered is that no one cares more than my Heavenly Father. He loves me, and He loves my family. As I sought guidance through prayer, fasting, and attending the temple, “Love one another as I have loved you” took on a whole new meaning. I discovered it really means what it says: love everyone, even those among your family and friends who may make choices different than you would.
As we entered the chapel that Sunday, I sensed my son’s uneasiness as we quickly took our seats. I saw no awkward stares. The people who looked our way smiled with a friendly nod. As the congregation began to sing one of my favorite hymns, “Because I Have Been Given Much, ” gratitude filled my heart, and that’s when the tears began. The words “I have been given much” rang true. I had a wonderful husband; seven grown children, four who are married, raising children of their own; a son on a mission; and, in my church pew that day, I had one arm around my unwed, pregnant daughter and my other arm around my gay son, with his boyfriend sitting beside him. My children were with me at church, and they had come on their own accord. These tears trickling down my face were tears of joy.
Through experiences I’ve had with them, I have learned that even when we disagree, we can still be respectful of our differences and find plenty to love in one another. They taught me lessons in love that I don’t think I could have learned any other way. Today, I was grateful that my son and daughter had the courage to come to church with me. It was a much-welcomed tender mercy.
Following the Church meeting, my daughter received a genuine hug from her visiting teacher, and many in the congregation shook my son’s hand and introduced themselves to his companion. My heart filled with deep gratitude as I witnessed true Christlike love. It’s the kind of love we can all work to develop each day.
God knows what we need to become more—to become more like Him. He knew I needed these seven children, with all of their different perspectives and personalities.
These are three of the great lessons they’ve taught me about love:
- Love thy neighbor. “Neighbor” also means family. And sometimes loving and accepting our family members no matter what choices they make is far more difficult than showing love to a stranger. When my son first came out, and when my daughter started making choices that were not in line with what we’d taught at church and in our home, I thought my world had ended. It didn’t. Instead, I came to understand more fully that God intends for us to love everyone, even those who choose or live differently than we would. We can disagree with loved ones’ choices but still love them completely, like our Heavenly Father does. As I chose to love and understand my children better and make my home a safe haven where all my children could feel welcomed and loved, peace replaced my fears.
- Love without condemning. I would not be the person I am today without my son, who has opened my heart and mind to loving other people who are LGBT. I have met some of the most talented and wonderful Mormon LGBT people of all ages and demographics that I am embarrassed to say I would have never made the effort to know, if it weren’t for my son. I will be forever grateful for the friendships made. While there are many things we must make judgments about, comparison to others is not one of them.
- Love is demonstrated. Every day of our lives we have opportunities to show love and kindness to those around us. Love is an action word, demonstrated through selflessness, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. My family’s diversity has helped me to see people as God sees them and to reach out to others in kindness, whether that is inviting someone to dinner or family home evening or just to say hello. I strive to treat others the way I want to be treated and the way I would want others to treat my children—with kindness.
Taped to my bathroom mirror are two words: Love and Trust. Love is to remind me to do just that—love. Trust is a reminder to trust in the Lord, trust in the journey, trust in the process, trust my intuition—trust.
I don’t know if my son and daughter will ever be at church every Sunday. Maybe another child will decide that church isn’t for them anymore. Maybe my son will never get married in the temple. But I can live with it because I trust God. I trust in His promises. I trust that He loves me, He loves my children, and He blessed me with the children that I have for a reason.
Answers don’t always come neatly wrapped in a Sunday School lesson. Sometimes they come in unexpected life experiences. But the answers come.