Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's Really Important

First of all, THANK YOU for all the well wishes I've received by text message, email and Facebook.

I wish I could tell you what happened to me in the last 24 hours, but I'm still drawing a blank.  I remember taking our foster son to the park to play with some friends.  I remember filing an application for an attorney.  I remember watching a video or two on the Far Between web site.  Apart from that, the first thing I really have any clear memory of in the past day was waking up in the emergency room at about 1 a.m., with my husband Göran and our dear friend Peggy by my side.

What I am told is that, around 5 p.m., some good Samaritan found me face down on a sidewalk, toppled over my bike, on the south side of a public park adjacent to our home.  I was covered in blood and had a major gash on my head which the doctors have since stapled together.  (Staples?  Really?  Actually, I have some vague memory of the doctor telling me he was about to staple my head.  But I don't remember much anything of the actual experience itself.)  The man who found me walked me home with my bike, and then I called my husband Göran on my cell phone.  Göran called the ambulance.  The stranger who found me stayed until help arrived, and wrote his name and phone number on a piece of paper before he left.  I'm telling you all this because this is what people told me happened.  I don't remember any of it at all, even though everyone assures me I was quite loquacious through the whole experience.

Our son Glen and his boyfriend Will had spent time doing vigil with Göran and our friend Peggy in the hospital.  (I think I remember Glen crying by my bed side.)  He and Will later went home to pick up our other foster son (who was staying with a next door neighbor) and keep an eye on him and put him to bed while Göran remained behind with our friend Peggy.

They did a CAT scan on me from head to toe.  (I vaguely remember being carted to the CAT scan machine, and being awkwardly moved by the nurses from the gurney to some pads in front of the machine.)  I had a concussion.  They discovered a cyst around my spleen, which at first they were going to hospitalize me for, and possibly do immediate surgery.  Further study of the CAT scans revealed, however, that the cyst was not accident-related, and was not as urgent as they thought.  Once I was awake enough to stand up, the doctor prescribed heavy-duty painkillers and said I could go home -- but ordered me to bed rest for the next week or two.

Trust me.  I'm horizontal typing this.

I was dreaming before I woke up.  In my dream, Göran and I had learned that we were going to be able to adopt our foster son.  I was also in some kind of process, petitioning my Stake to reinstate my membership in the Church.  Göran says I was talking virtually the whole time I was in the emergency room with them, though I don't remember any of this.  I was telling our friend Peggy about our trip to California, and the wonderful time we had at Circling the Wagons.  One of the first things I remember from waking up was saying: "I wish I weren't excommunicated from the Church."

I guess I could be dead.  I could be seriously incapacitated, or in a coma.  The doctors tell me my memories from the last 24 hours may or may not come back.

The first really strong emotion I felt was just gratitude.  Apparently I'm OK.  I woke up surrounded by family and friends, eventually learning of a barrage of well wishes and offers to help on Facebook.

I don't know if this will sound odd for me to say, but I woke up feeling the Spirit, reassuring me that I was cared for and everything would be OK.  I woke up knowing that life is precious, and that what is most precious in life is family, friends and faith.  I never felt abandoned by God.  If anything, I felt sustained by him.  I have one fleeting memory of flying through the air, and thinking that word: "sustained."

My wish not to be excommunicated is a wish to have my outward relationship with the Church rectified to match the inward relationship I feel with God.

I do remember a kind of darkness too, and thinking I was close to death, and thinking if death came now, I was ready.  Maybe even eager to see what is on the other side, because I trust it is marvelous.

But really, I have a son to raise now, and my husband isn't ready to let me go.  And I wept tears of joy realizing that we were still together as a family.  I was weeping when I woke up, at the thought of adopting our foster son.

I wanted to post a picture of myself, to prove to you all that I am all right.  I took a picture on my iPhone of me grinning, with gauze bandages wrapped around my head like some sort of turban.  I remember seeing it for the first time in a mirror at the emergency room, and -- still groggy -- saying something goofy like: "I look like one of those Jewish ladies in Miami."  Göran absolutely forbade my posting any such picture.  So you will have to take my word for it.  I am here grinning, happy to be still among you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Being a Partaker of Hope

Paul uses an interesting image in describing the freedom of those who work for the Kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians chapter 9.  He references the Old Testament prescription (in Deuteronomy 25:4): "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn."

Now, presumably, one would muzzle an ox being used to tread out corn to prevent the ox from eating some of the corn that he treads.  To muzzle the ox under such circumstances would completely reduce the ox to the status of beast of burden, as if the ox existed only to satisfy the needs of the muzzler.  When you muzzle an ox that is being used to tread out the corn, you are essentially saying to the ox: "I can force you to do labor, but you will reap no benefits whatsoever of that labor."  The Deuteronomic prescription here is essentially an acknowledgment that to do so would be an act of animal cruelty.  Oxen have needs.  They get hungry when they work.  If you're using an ox for labor, you owe that ox some basic consideration, including the right to eat a little bit of the corn that it is treading out for you.

The ox does not in other words exist solely for the use of humans.  It has an autonomous existence in and for itself that humans need to consider.  Oxen, in other words, are people too!  There's a whole sermon in this alone, about the value of all life, not just human life, and what it means to be stewards of the planet.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul extends this principle of consideration for animals in the same way that Jesus did in Luke 14:5.  Jesus used the example of pulling an ox out of a pit on the Sabbath.  If an ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath, we don't just leave it in there because it's the Sabbath and we're not supposed to do any work then.  That would be cruel!  We pull the ox out, as soon as it falls in.  Jesus used this example to point out that fundamental human needs are more important than legalistic considerations.  If we'd pull an ox out of the pit on the Sabbath, how much more should we be willing to attend to basic human needs, even when to do so technically breaks the law?  "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath!" (Mark 2:27)

Interesting to me that Paul and Jesus both seem to be making a point here that we very often treat human beings worse than we treat animals.  Both Jesus and Paul are making a point about how human beings should treat one another, by pointing out that if we understand that it is morally right to give basic consideration to an ox, we should be willing to give at least that much consideration to a fellow human being.  Paul goes so far as to say: "Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?"  In other words, God gave us this commandment about oxen specifically expecting us to understand that this rule applies to people too!

So if this basic principle applies to oxen, surely it applies to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

If oxen are allowed to eat the corn they're treading -- in other words, to meet basic, physical needs -- what about spiritual and emotional needs?  Aren't those more important?

And don't human beings have a fundamental, basic need for love, touch, companionship, intimacy and affection?  When we have those things do we not flourish?  And when we do not have those things, do we not wither?  Göran and I just recently became foster parents again, to a 10-year-old boy.  And having him with us reminds me once again how very, very fundamental those basic human needs are.  We are so much more than just machines that run on food.  Our bodies are temples for our spirits, spirits that need companionship, love, affection, touch.  These are spiritual needs as much as, if not more than, they are physical needs.  If a soul is body plus spirit, then it makes sense that they are simultaneously physical and spiritual needs.

But what if we tell LGBT people in the Church: "You may labor for the Kingdom.  But you may not have an intimate relationship.  You will muzzle that part of yourselves."  If we do that, aren't we treating LGBT folks worse than we would treat an animal?

As Paul says: "For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope" (1 Corinthians 9:10).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Tree of Life

Here's the text of the talk I delivered at Circling the Wagons, San Francisco, CA, on August 11, 2012

I am indebted to my yoga teacher Meher, who is a Muslim and a woman, and who seems to empathize extremely well with what it means to be a Mormon and gay. She gave me this wonderful quote by the Muslim mystic Rumi, who wrote of the Tree of Life:

You have searched for the form of the tree, not the essence. Sometimes it is known as tree and sometimes the sun, sometimes the sea and sometimes the cloud. It is that from which a thousand places, life comes everlasting. Even though its source is single, it brings a thousand doubles, innumerable names befit its form. Without design it has all virtue. Whoever seeks it finds his own. Why stick to one shape or another? You'll fail to find the tree, and find ill fortune. Disappointment only will be your bitterness. Pass on from the name, and look closer at the source. The source will show you what you seek. Leave the form behind.

I remember first learning from the Book of Mormon of the Tree of Life, that tree whose beauty “was far beyond, exceeding of all beauty,” which was “precious above all,” whose fruit was “most sweet” and “desirable above all other fruit” (1 Nephi 8, 11). I have always known I wanted to partake of the fruit of that Tree. I have always known that my parents had it, and they wanted me to partake of it. Throughout my life, I have encountered others who have had it: my grandmother, Sunday School teachers and priesthood quorum leaders, missionaries, BYU professors, brothers and sisters in the wards I grew up in, ordinary people in whom I could feel some special quality, in whom there was some special light that I knew I wanted too.

I knew I was closest to the fruit of that Tree when I studied my scriptures, when I prayed alone or with my family, when I listened – really listened! – at Church, when someone laid hands on my head to give me a blessing, or when I engaged in service to others, maybe accompanying my dad on a home-teaching visit, or delivering Christmas gifts to a needy family, or volunteering at the Stake welfare farm, or helping to paint an elderly member's home with other members of my priesthood quorum, or going on a split with the missionaries. I knew that I would be partaking of the fruit of that Tree by becoming a missionary, and I realize now that is because we only truly partake of the fruit when we share it with others.

When I was at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, I remember being at my very first devotional there. It was the most incredible feeling. In this auditorium surrounded by other missionaries, I felt a combination of awe that I could be counted among their number, and terror that I might not be worthy. Was I really going to measure up? All the greatest apostles and prophets of scripture, before they were anything else, they were missionaries. Could I put myself in the same category as a Paul? An Alma? A Peter? An Ammon? Could I really be a missionary? And as we began to sing the opening hymn at that devotional, and I heard this incredible, powerful chorus of voices singing in harmony around me, and as I joined my voice to theirs, singing with all my heart, I was overcome with emotion. I felt a light radiating all around us, and I looked up, and I saw the ceiling of the auditorium fading away, and clouds drawing back so that I could see straight up into the Heavens. And there was God, surrounded by all the angelic hosts of heaven, shining down on us. And I saw the world: I saw war, poverty, misery, slavery, and cruelty. And the Spirit said, You are heralding the end to that slavery and unhappiness. That is your calling as a missionary. And I understood in that moment, more clearly than ever before or since, how my work as a missionary could have value, if it freed God's children from bondage, and if it created a world more filled with love.

I didn't fully understand it at that time, but that experience gave me a key to understanding what it meant to truly live my faith, to finding the essence of the Tree of Life as opposed to the mere form of the Tree. Is my action in the world making someone more free? Do my words bring healing, comfort or joy? If so, then I'm accomplishing the mission the Lord sent me to accomplish.

When Joseph Smith prayed to God to know where he could find truth on the earth, the Lord warned him against those who have “a form of godliness, but... deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith History 19). What is the power of godliness? It is love:
The angel said unto [Nephi]... Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? And [Nephi] answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. And [the angel] spake unto [Nephi], saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul. (1 Nephi 11: 21-23)

It is worth noting what the angel reminds Nephi of; that we can tell the love of God because of how it makes us feel; that it is “most joyous to the soul.”

But what does it mean to say we can have the form of godliness without its power? We can have all the trappings: we can wear our Sunday best to Church, we can quote scriptures and conference talks over the pulpit and in Sunday School discussions, we can hold a temple-recommend and follow all the rules. And we can be without love, and without mercy. That is the form without the power.

But if we can have the form without the power, we can also have the power without the form.

I was excommunicated from the Church in the fall of 1986, a few months after I had very nearly committed suicide because of my inability to reconcile being gay with my faith. God spoke to me that summer, and told me he knew me from my inmost parts, and that I was not condemned, there was nothing wrong with me, and I had no reason to fear.

In 1992, I met Göran, my husband of almost two decades. Everything of value I have learned in life, I've learned through loving him. We have parented a foster son together. His name is Glen, and he just finished his second year in college, at the University of Minnesota. We've just now, within the past week, become foster parents again, to a ten-year-old boy named Jeremiah. We can't wait to go back to Minnesota to be with him!

In 2005, I followed a prompting of the Spirit to become active in my ward. With the blessing and encouragement of my bishop, and following other promptings of the Spirit, I have sought to live my life as much as I can in accordance with the teachings of the Church. I have a testimony of the Church. I know that God lives, because I've tasted the fruit of that Tree of Life. But I've been told that unless I leave my husband, I can never be a member of the Church.

That has been painful to me. I know my love for my husband is sacred and blessed by my Heavenly Father. How could our love for each other be an obstacle to Church membership, when in it we fulfill the measure of our creation, and through it, we become more loving, faithful, patient, hopeful people? Yet, I've learned not to be frustrated. I've learned to seek the essence of the Tree, not the form.

I can be excommunicated from the Church, judged too unworthy to take the sacrament, much less hold a temple recommend, not allowed to pray from the pulpit, much less hold a calling.

But I can still have a conversation with someone who sits alone at Church, and really listen.

After a flood in North Dakota, I can join a team of LDS volunteers to build sandbag barriers around homes that are threatened by the rising river. Or I can serve meals at a Methodist church, or help distribute food and necessities at the Bishop's Storehouse, or keep watch at a homeless shelter at night.

I can invite people into my home, and feed them, and make everyone who comes in feel welcome and honored.

I can pray for and encourage a friend at Church who feels overwhelmed by his struggle with doubt, or who feels worthless because he hasn't found a life partner.

At work I can be patient with an attorney who's just yelled me, and focus instead on solving her problem.

When I make a commitment to a person – whether it be my husband, or one of my foster sons, or my father, or my bishop, or a friend, or a co-worker – I can keep it. I can let my life be an accumulation of commitments kept.

I can ask forgiveness, when I've failed to love as I ought.

I can forgive those who judge me. I can let go of the fact that someone refuses to see things as I see them, and love that person for who he is.

Over time I have learned that members of the Church recognize the power of godliness, and they respect it, even when it resides in forms they do not expect. LGBT people in the Church have the power to teach their straight brothers and sisters about the true nature of love. Perhaps there's a kind of redemption that our Church needs that only we can offer.

If someone looks at me and thinks I'm unworthy, or rebellious, or disobedient, or unclean, or thinks what I think doesn't matter much because I'm gay and excommunicated, maybe it's a good thing. Maybe it's good if that person will not be impressed no matter what I do or say. Because if I do something to impress others, I'm beginning to strive after forms rather than essence, rather than power. If you take everything away from me – church callings, the temple, the sacrament – that leaves me only the reward inherent in love itself. It gives me an interesting kind of chance. It can free me to focus on the essence of the Tree of Life, the power of godliness, rather than the form. Maybe we ought all to be excommunicated at least once in our lives. Maybe we all ought to have the experience of being hated or condemned by at least some one.

Or maybe not. We can always find new ways to accumulate worldly credit for ourselves, even when the Universe does its darnedest to humble us, to help us see more clearly.

The realm of the Tree's essence, of its power, is in our hearts. Only we and God can ultimately know what our true motives are, and that is a good thing. At some point, life must teach us that it does not matter how acclaimed we are by the world.

I don't mean to say that the forms are bad. It is good to go to Church, to follow rules. The forms provide a necessary structure within which love can be clearly expressed and received. The Church provides me a context within which I can learn the true nature of disinterested, unconditional love. It does not do this any less effectively if I am not loved by everyone at Church, or if I am not treated fairly. In fact, under such conditions, it may actually teach me the profoundest lessons anyone can ever learn about love.

My prayer is for God to teach me – to free me always and everywhere to see and seek after his love, even when it resides in the forms I least expect.

In the name of Jesus Christ.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wagons Circled, Camp Broken

The Circling the Wagons Conference in San Francisco began Friday night with Carol Lynn Pearson reading poetry, followed by open discussion and sharing. My favorite poem of Sister Pearson's compared life to a school play, in which people are assigned roles not necessarily by acting ability, but by the director's sense of what will allow each actor to grow the most. 

It was quite a while ago that I'd come to look at life as a drama in which we each play roles, some as heros, some as villains, some as bullies, some as victims, some as healers. After it all ended, after the curtains went down, after the masks and the costumes came off, the cast -- the whole cast -- would all gather backstage with God the Director and debrief. We'd all be surprised to learn the true identities of the person behind each role.  Maybe our arch enemy in the drama, it turned out, was our best friend from way back.  Maybe our soul mate in the drama, had, until then, been a stranger.  Taking the masks off and reflecting on the roles we'd each played would teach us not only about ourselves, but about the identity of God, and about the true nature of everything...

Geckoman surprised me by being there with his wife! She melted my heart with her gentleness and humility. Literally my heart just melted.  She is perfectly matched by her devoted spouse. I met Gecko years ago, when he was on a business trip in the Twin Cities, and was humbled by his generosity of spirit. Meeting them together, I instantly fell in love with her, and instantly understood why Geckoman remains devotedly by her side.  He read a poem about the prairies and about hunger for redemption, which I pray that this conference added to him and his in at least some measure.

The most poignant moment of the evening for me was when a young father read a poem he had written to his son. The teenage son was there, accompanied by his whole family.  The son had recently come out, and everyone was there to support him, mom, dad and siblings. The poem was about a father's hopes for his son, and it moved me to tears. I marvel how this seems to be an increasingly common occurrence: LDS parents and siblings literally circling the wagons around their gay family member, determined that nothing and no one is going to harm their loved one.  Signs of hope that the sorry days of disowned, cast-out gay children will soon be a thing of history.

A Model for the Church

The following morning, keynote speakers Mitch Mayne and Bishop Don Fletcher described the confluence of individuals and circumstances that have allowed the Bay Ward and the San Francisco Stake to become models for the rest of the Church in beginning to heal the anguish and misunderstanding around homosexuality in the LDS Church and in the broader Mormon culture.

The most important step in the San Francisco model has been the implementation of a moratorium on excommunications for individuals in same-sex relationships. According to a talk delivered by Matt Mossman of the San Francisco High Council (the text of which is available here), the current handbook of instructions for the LDS Church requires disciplinary procedures only in a handful of situations which Bro. Mossman described literally as “horror stories” – cases involving extreme abuse. Homosexual behavior is not included on that short list of situations requiring Church discipline. Homosexual behavior is included on a longer list of situations in which a disciplinary process may be implemented at the option of local leaders. Local leaders in San Francisco and elsewhere have simply categorically decided not to exercise that option in the case of consensual homosexual behavior. They have, simultaneously, worked with local Church members and leaders to educate about LGBT issues and create a more welcoming environment in LDS wards. And in the Bay Ward in particular, where demography and geography have conspired to create a ward with an unusually large proportion of LGBT members, and where the bishopric now includes an openly gay man, the result is an historic opportunity for LGBT Saints to practice their faith unmolested, in a very LGBT-friendly environment.  LGBT folks are coming back to the Church.

The question begged is, what does this mean for the vast majority of LGBT Mormons who don't happen to live in San Francisco (or in the handful of other East and West Coast Stakes where similar conditions exist and similar practices are being implemented)? 

That question as it presents itself very personally to me is, if gay men and lesbians in these stakes are allowed to be in committed same-sex relationships and remain active members of the Church, why must I (and others in my situation) be treated differently?  Why must I remain excommunicated?

I've asked this question before to a number of individuals, and I posed it again in a conversation I had with High Councilman Mossman after the final session of the conference.  Nobody -- including Bro. Mossman -- has really been able to give me a good answer. We're in completely new territory. And the answer, I think, is that we'll know if the status of folks in my situation can change only with time, as we see if the practices of the San Francisco Stake produce good fruit that can be replicated elsewhere.

That fruit would likely include, among other things, more united, supportive families, and a healthier, happier, less suicide-prone generation of LGBT Mormons. Dr. Caitlyn Ryan presented a summary of a study freshly published in booklet form by San Francisco State University, Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children. (Here's where you can get a copy.)  The family I described above who attended Circling the Wagons with with their teenage gay son are a model of the ideal type of family described in the Supportive Families study, and with any luck, leaders throughout the Church, like those in the San Francisco Stake, will provide increasing encouragement and support for LDS families to follow in their path.

LGBT Pioneers

In the meantime, those LGBT Mormons who insist on seeking joy and redemption in relationships where fully reciprocal intimate love is possible, and who wish to practice their faith as Latter-day Saints and remain connected to the Church, remain pioneers. Kim Mack and I spoke about the realities – spiritual and social – faced by gay and lesbian Mormons who suffer the ultimate sanction in LDS communities – excommunication – and what that means for our spiritual paths. 

(Hint: an authentic, Gospel-centered path for LGBT people in our situation is not only possible, but can offer us opportunities for growth, and teach us to find peace and joy and the pure love of Christ beyond words to describe!) 

Sister Pearson spoke out -- in her poetically eloquent way -- on behalf of romantic love as a great democratizing force, and on why equals choosing one another freely is and must always be the kernel around which meaningful family and meaningful faith grow.

I also co-facilitated a workshop with Utah-based therapist Hollie Hancock on “What Helps (and Hurts) in Resolving Sexual, Religious, and Social Conflicts.” The workshop really boiled down to the question: How do we enter into dialog with people who disagree with us? How can we have hard conversations that not only don't end in bitterness, but that actually increase love and deepen relationship with all the significant people in our lives? Hollie and I role-played some scenarios, and then gave our workshop participants an opportunity to role-play as well.

It felt to me that the focus of folks like me and Sister Mack and Sister Pearson and Sister Hancock during the conference appropriately had to be on offering tools to LGBT folks for spiritual survival and growth in situations where we won't necessarily get much outward encouragement from our immediate Church and family environment.  For now -- despite deeply encouraging signs of improvement in places like the San Francisco Stake -- that is still very many, likely the majority of us.


The content of the conference was wonderful. But in the final analysis, it was the relationships that the conference fostered that were most transformative for me. This was the first time that my husband has ever attended any such event with me in its entirety, from beginning to end!  It felt good to be there with him, to be able to reflect publicly with others on my faith, on our common faith, and to have him be a part of it.  He is a part of me, every bit as much as my faith is, and it felt so amazing to me to bring all those parts of me together into one great whole.

After the session in which I spoke, I was approached by someone who told me that, while he was grateful for my words over the pulpit, what he really came for was to see me and Göran together, and to see other gay couples as well.  His whole life, he had been told that gay couples couldn't be happy, and he wanted to see for himself.  And it meant everything to him to see.

I spoke to another gay man who is not LDS -- yet.  He's been investigating the Church.  He has a testimony and wants to join.  He was grateful to see how others of us manage the challenges this presents.  The Gospel offers us something worthwhile, some pearl of great price, even when we have to negotiate some pretty incredible hurdles to get at it!  To me, this seems an acid test for the Church.  Will we really be open to everyone who feels the call of the Spirit to join us in this great work?

All the connections were so important to me -- the hugs, the words expressing love, gratitude and faith; the stories told; the tears shed and the laughter shared.  It's always hardest for me when these gatherings finally end, when we turn our backs, face outward and go our separate ways.  I'm grateful, though, for the pieces of each other that we keep, that we take home with us as we do the work that needs to be done in each and every one of our lives.  To all of you I met, thank you!  I cherish the piece of you I have right here, in my heart.

We each have our roles to play, until someday when all the masks can come off, and forgiveness is offered and accepted, and love perfected, and we're all welcomed home into our Heavenly Parents' arms again.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Circling the Wagons, San Francisco, August 10-12, 2012

Sometimes, out here on the Great Midwestern Prairie, I get lonely for the companionship of unabashedly gay-friendly Mormons.  I can find a fair number of Mormons here.  (There's about 30,000 of us here in Minnesota -- 5 stakes organized in the Twin Cities Metro Area.)  And I can find plenty of gay-friendly folks here.  (Minneapolis has made it onto the Advocate's list of "gayest cities in America" at least once.)  But finding a sizable group of people at that intersection of gay-friendly and Mormon here in Minnesota, while getting steadily easier all the time, is still difficult.

That's why my husband and I are packing our bags tonight and heading out west to that fair city on the bay, to gather with other Latter-day Saints who are "circling the wagons" around their LGBT loved ones.

This letter and this response to it have helped remind me why we need conferences of Mormons who think it's important to circle wagons in this way.

But even if all were well in Zion, I'd still want to gather with folks who, over the years, through blogging, and Facebook, and through Sunstone and Affirmation, have become good friends.

Carol Lynn Pearson will be there.  So will Bob Rees and Don Fletcher and Caitlyn Ryan and Kim Mack.  I'm looking forward to finally meeting Mitch Mayne in person.  I'll be speaking in the community voices segment, and look forward to co-facilitating a workshop on "What helps (and hurts) in resolving sexual, religious and social conflicts" with Hollie Hancock, a wonderful straight LDS ally I met for the first time in Utah a couple of weeks ago.  The full program can be found here.

I hope to see some of you there!

The worst thing, I think, will be having to come back on Monday!!

Monday, August 6, 2012

"No Other Success Can Compensate..."

Without question, the single best decision Göran and I ever made was to become foster parents.  It changed our lives in every way for the better.  Yes, it introduced complications.  Yes, it really tested the limits of our relationship at times.  It forced me and Göran to learn how to communicate and work together and resolve conflicts in ways we'd never had to before.  It forced us to really think about and clarify our values.  It required many forms of creative problem-solving.  It was one of the greatest challenges we've ever faced.  And I would never trade the experience of parenting Glen for anything in the world.

Glen just finished his second year in college, and he's thriving!  He's finally settled on a major, and is doing well academically.  Been on the Dean's List twice!  He became the first "legacy" of the Delta Lambda Phi fraternity (the "gay" fratenity) -- a fraternity that Göran played a founding role in.  Glen is playing a leadership role in the fraternity -- which has given him and Göran plenty of opportunity to interact at a variety of fraternity functions.  He has a steady on-campus job, and he and his boyfriend of two years moved into off-campus housing together earlier this year.  Can you tell we're proud?  The moments in my life when I'm happiest are the moments when he is near, like during our recent family reunion in Utah, when Göran and Glen and I were all able to join the rest of the family in celebrating my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Some day my life will be over.  When I reflect on that, it is clear to me that whatever my other accomplishments are, they will pale in comparison to the accomplishment of being a father.  I could let go of everything else but that one.  We love our son, and we will always be there for him.

It was tough for me when Glen moved out.  I actually grieved.  Which, logically, didn't make sense to me, because we still see him all the time.  He visits every other weekend or so.  He still calls every once in a while to ask for advice with the various challenges he's facing in college, or for help with his Finnish homework.  (He's minoring in Finnish!)  One of the reasons he went to the University of Minnesota was so he could stay close to us and see us on a regular basis.  I love that we do see him regularly!  Don't know how I'd manage emotionally otherwise.  Still, I realized that I missed the active, daily parenting that happens when the kid is still living under the same roof with you.

So... After Glen had been out of the house for a year or so, Göran and I let the agency know that we were open to receiving another kid, if they found one who would be a good match for our home.

The placement seemed to take forever.  I finally learned that we had to wait so long partly because the bulk of placements take place in the summer, to avoid having to disrupt kids' school years.  While we were waiting, it was really bothering me.  I was anxious to have a new kid!  It was as if I had constantly running through my head David O. McKay's famous dictum: "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."  To me, our home felt like a half home without a kid around...  I kept thinking to myself, "I'm wasting my time with all this other stuff.  I want to parent again."

And now we're on the verge of becoming parents again.  After a few referrals that didn't pan out, this past weekend we finally had 10-year-old Jeremiah over for a pre-placement visit.  That's the last hurdle...  The pre-placement visit is basically a trial run for both the kid and the parents, when both parents and kid get to decide that they want to go forward with the placement.  And, bottom line, we fell in love with Jeremiah, and he fell in love with us.

The end of the pre-placement is always difficult.  Jeremiah had already decided for himself: he wanted to stay with us!  He protested that he didn't want to leave!

We're traveling to California this weekend, so he won't be permanently placed with us until after we come back -- though he will spend a few more days with us in the coming week, before we go.  He'll be back with us temporarily tomorrow, and then back with us again permanently one week from tomorrow.

It's on the verge of something like this that you realize you're in the calm before the storm.  Göran and I have been checking in with each other again and again the last few days: "Are you ready for this?" 

I'm anxious...  In the sense of nervous, and in the sense of eager, both at the same time.

Our lives are about to change forever...  Again!