Around this time last year, I was writing about a "tender mercy of the Lord." I was prompted to bear my testimony in Church and was permitted by my bishop -- on a one time basis -- to do so.
When my bishop reminded me that this was a one-time thing, he did suggest that the same time, one year later, we might fast and pray together and ask the Lord if this might be permitted me again.
I was a bit surprised by his suggestion. I was a bit surprised, actually, that I was ever permitted to bear my testimony at all. It was only in response to a very distinct and very powerful prompting from the Spirit that I asked my bishop's permission to do so in the first place. I simply assumed that this was a kind of miracle, a one-time event that would not repeat itself. I had (and have) more or less resigned myself to the fact that my testimony bearing must take place one-on-one in private, here on my blog, or in other settings than Church. So the fact that my bishop suggested that we fast and pray together about this in the future seemed like a greater "tender mercy" than I ever would have expected.
We did in fact fast and pray together this past weekend. My bishop told me at the outset that he felt "virtually certain" that there would be no more exceptions to the rule such as occurred about a year ago. I told him that I would like to fast and pray together anyway, in accordance with his initial suggestion, and he agreed to do so. We also agreed to meet right after Priesthood Meeting to pray together.
I want to say here -- not just parenthetically -- how lucky I feel to have a bishop such as this, who is willing to go this kind of extra mile with me. I have some inkling of how many people in our ward put demands on my bishop's time and energies. And so this was as concrete a proof of this man's great love and concern for me as I could ever ask.
I pretty much knew -- as did my bishop -- that no exception would be made. I kind of knew it the moment I had finished bearing my testimony a year ago. But I wanted this opportunity to fast and pray with my bishop. Maybe this was just selfishness on my part. Perhaps I just wanted to know that he was willing to go some extra mile just for me. Maybe I wanted proof that I was not just some number in a book somewhere, that I was in his mind a real person with real needs, real struggles, and real gifts.
My bishop said, "It's always a good thing to fast and pray." I think he was just trying to lower my expectations in advance by saying it (though there honestly were no expectations to lower). But what he said was true, especially in this case. I felt a special closeness to the Spirit the entire time of our fast, and received some special comforts, assurances, and encouragements.
As I usually do, I walked to Church yesterday morning. It was a more pleasant walk than usual, with the sun out and spring thaw in full gear. The sidewalks are all finally clear and dry, and grass is showing everywhere (though it's still brown). The air was only slightly chilly. As usual, I enjoyed the half-hour walk to Church. Even though friends at Church would willingly give me rides, I prefer it. It's part of the spiritual preparation time I need for Church.
During my walk, I thought about the appointment I had with my bishop to pray together after the meetings. And I couldn't help but feel some anguish and anxiety about this whole situation. About my whole situation, being gay and excommunicated. But as I arrived at the doors of the ward meeting house and was about to enter, the Spirit just clocked me.
It was a very clear revelation. The Spirit simply said: "Do not pass through those doors if there is any doubt in your mind that you are equal to every single other person who walks through those doors. You are not inferior in any way. You are as deserving and worthy of every blessing your Heavenly Father desires pour out on every single one of his children. Do not enter without knowing that."
There were almost tears in my eyes as I walked through those doors. And it was a most peculiar thing. As I hung up my coat and then made my way toward the sanctuary, it was as if I had a sign on my back that said, "Greet me, and please be extra nice to me today." Maybe there was just a particular look in my eyes. Because it seemed that every person that saw me gave me a special handshake or a nod or a smile, or an extra warm greeting. My special brother Eteu came up from behind and tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a great big hug and told me how glad he was to see me. Sister H. came up and hugged me and said, "I just want you to know, you're good, in my heart." And my friend sister J. and her family came and joined me in the back pew. And Bro. B. made me promise I'd sit in on his Sunday School class that morning, which I did (though I usually attend Gospel Doctrine). So I just felt completely loved and embraced by the Saints.
And after the meetings, I did pray with the Bishop. I thought maybe he'd say the prayer for us, but he asked me to pray. It was the first time I'd met with my bishop and been asked to pray. So I did, and all I could do was thank my Heavenly Father for this incredible man, and my incredible ward, and for the restored Church and the restored priesthood, and the light of the gospel that has touched and blessed my life in so many ways I'm not even worthy of. And I thanked God for having a testimony (even if I can't bear it in meeting!). I just wept through the entire prayer, from beginning to end, though I promise you they were tears of joy. Not the least particle of pain or sadness. Just pure joy. And then my bishop told me about his prayers for me over the past week. He encouraged me to keep making efforts to be faithful in every way I could, and he told of the love he and other Church leaders feel for me.
I am so blessed.
But if there is a reason why I am sharing this story it is so that all who read this -- so that the gay and lesbian saints who read my blog -- can know what the Spirit told me at the entrance of the Church. We belong in there, within those walls, where we can know in real and concrete ways of God's love for us, where we can feel the Spirit whispering to us that we are loved, we are worthy, and we are not inferior in any way, no less deserving of God's blessings than any other child of his. We should enter and know.