It's Not That Simple, by Moira Rose
It had been one of those nights where sleep was just at the edges of my eyelids, but my brain hadn’t gotten the memo. Ever since I had first taken on single mom status, nearly a year before, my brain liked to tease me into believing I was having a “Kevin’s mom moment” like when Catherine O’Hara’s eyes popped open on a transatlantic flight to Paris and she screamed “KEVIN!!” after realizing she’d left her nine year-old son at home. Fortunately, I had improved at quieting the inadequate mom brain to the point where I normally fell asleep quickly. However, tonight I couldn’t stop thinking about the update the church had made to the member handbook that Tuesday morning, February 19th 2020, and how it aligned with my own journey.
I tossed and faced my bedside table to see the screen of my phone illuminated with a three word text from my friend Sandra, “Can you talk?” It was after ten on a work night, and I knew Sandra wouldn’t be texting me if it wasn’t out of necessity. I had somehow become her support person after she nervously approached me at the end of an addiction recovery meeting a few months ago, and our friendship had developed into a big sister/little sister dynamic that I’d grown to cherish. I grabbed my phone, squinted into the dimmed display, and replied, “Sure, wanna call?” The three dots lingered while I expected the phone to ring. Inside I was relieved for the distraction. I hoped that it would keep me distracted enough until the next day. After some time, I entered another “?” Finally, the dots blinked again. Her reply came across the screen, “I’m parked outside. Can I come in for a bit?”
I slid into my dingy pink bathrobe to look more presentable than I felt and headed to the front door trying to not seem too panicked as I greeted her. Sandra’s auburn curls were in a messy bun on top of her head and her eyes were red and glassy like she had been crying for hours. She was wearing what I recognized as one of her husband’s pullover BYU hoodies with yoga pants and slippers. When I made eye contact with her I saw her bottom lip begin to quiver and I knew she was about to start crying again.
“Hey… why don’t you come sit down, and I’ll boil us some water for tea?” I smiled at her as simply and unassuming as I could. She nodded her head and gave me a quick hug before she slid off her slippers and found her way to the couch.
A few minutes later we were sitting on my L-shaped couch almost knee to knee. We had never actually had a visit like this one so I tried to engage her without sounding as awkward as I felt, “So what’s going on? Is everything okay?”
I could see her shoulders rise and fall as she took a deep breath. She hesitated as she blew into the ceramic mug to cool the temperature a bit – the air was shaky as though she was fighting to still gain control of crying that may ensue again at any moment.
“That’s quite alright,” I said, “If you need a minute that’s okay too.”
The shaky breaths continued until she took a couple of longer sips of the chamomile tea. Then she closed her eyes, took three deep controlled breaths, and opened her pale green eyes before blurting out something I wasn’t surprised to hear, “Moira, I’m gay. I don’t know what to do.”
I looked at her with softened eyes and a furrowed brow because I could feel the pain radiating from her. It was a pain I had been all too familiar with in my life, and I paused for a moment to just sit with her in this space. I wanted her to know that I had been suspicious, but I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable, or to mistake my intentions.
I paused a moment before I said, “It’s going to be okay. Let’s talk about it.”
Sandra was twenty-five years old. She had married her college sweetheart Rob after she returned from her mission two years ago. They seemed like a happy couple, and they had the yummiest eight month year old baby boy named Daxton that I happily babysat a few times for them. Sandra never got too in depth about her triggers except that her addictive behavior began some time during her senior year of high school. Tonight, Sandra revealed that it was around that time she realized she had fallen in love with her best friend Caryn. Caryn came out during their senior year and it didn’t take Sandra long to recognize that the bond she felt with Caryn was a lot more intense than a normal best friend bond. Caryn had been secretly dating a cross country teammate who graduated the year before and would be going to school in Boston to be with her. Sandra had been devastated beyond words. When Caryn moved, Sandra lost touch with her after their freshman year of college. Sandra never told anyone how she felt, but coped by developing a disordered eating habit.
“I honestly thought it was just Caryn,” Sandra said.
“I had never felt that way about a girl, and there was just something about her. I just wanted to be around her, but so did everyone else.”
Sandra pulled out her phone and pulled out a picture of a petite girl with fiery red locks pulled tight into a ponytail. Her brown eyes were bright and stared straight into the camera. She wore a half-smile that bordered on being a smolder, and freckles covered her sun-kissed nose and cheeks.
“That was taken after we won our district meet our senior year.”
Sandra scrolled through her phone a little more and pulled up another picture where Caryn’s hair was cut in a cute pixie-cut. She had one arm around a slender girl a couple of inches taller than her who had blonde wavy hair and blue eyes. Caryn’s smolder was obviously directed at the girl in that photo while the girl seemed to have mastered a Mona Lisa pose because somehow she was facing the camera and also returning Caryn’s gaze with a reciprocal smolder.
“That picture was the last text she sent me before I decided to change my number. Seeing them together seriously made me want to vomit, but I was too embarrassed to tell anyone why.”
“I’m sorry, please don’t take this the wrong way, so seven years later you were just going through pictures and realized you were gay? Is this just the first time you’ve admitted this to yourself, or is there more to this story?” I asked.
She stared back at me like a deer in the headlights, and seeing her freeze like that made me feel bad.
“No! Please don’t…. I’m not trying to make you feel bad. You said you thought it was just Caryn. Does that mean that there is someone else that brought these feelings up?”
I had hardly finished the question when I could see Sandra grasp onto the mug tighter. Her face winced, and her eyes closed as I could see more tears forming in the corners.
“Yes,” she sobbed, “Yes, there is someone else. I can’t make it stop, Moira. I don’t know what to do!”
It felt like a punch in the throat when I heard the familiar words, “I can’t make it stop…” Suddenly I felt like I was knee to knee and eye to eye with myself just a few months earlier when my journey first began. The fear, frustration, and disbelief shining from the red and glassy surface of her corneas. I wasn’t prepared for this conversation, but I knew the timing wasn’t a coincidence. I knew that like much of my journey over the last few months the Lord never let me hide from my feelings for too long. I knew Sandra needed to hear my experience. I was going to have to be vulnerable.
After she gained control, Sandra looked up at me with an inquisitive but painful expression to ask, “How did you… I mean… you seem like you have it all together. You make it look so easy.”
I let out an audible guffaw that I immediately apologized for, “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you. It is anything but easy. I’ve just gotten to a point where I’ve learned how to carry the crazy better, I guess.”
I had only given Sandra surface level details that really only connected my lived experiences to the days when I was a functional alcoholic. When I saw the curiosity in her eyes right before her mouth opened, I wasn’t surprised when she asked me to tell her my story.
“Do you want the Cliffs Notes version, or the extended version?” I asked.
“I want the version that you think will be the most helpful to me.”
“Okay, extended version it is,” I said, “Well for me it all began in the summer of 1997. There was a day in the summer of 1997 where my mother unintentionally looked right through me. I am pretty certain it was the day I almost entirely gave up on God and family because I believed that the disgust she expressed right before I went invisible came because she was ashamed of having a gay daughter. It took me 22 years to realize that it was devastation rather than shame. She saw me and I was so full of anger. I was so angry with God that I forced him out of my heart. She went looking for that light in me and it was nowhere to be seen. It broke her heart. I’m sure of it now.”
Sandra’s eyes were wide and looking at me with full intent to take in every word so I continued telling the story of the girl who forced the light out. I spent twelve years of my life wandering to find a light that could replace the one I forced out. I sought it out in relationships, substances, other religions, and even competitive billiards until I reached the point where I realized that nothing else in the world could replace the light I forced out. When I came full circle and returned to the light, I believed the girl I left in charge needed to be punished. I spent twelve years trying to punish God by forcing him out, which only punished myself. It seemed like the only logical solution was to bury this girl as far down as I could. I pledged to give all of myself to God. I vowed to live the life I was “supposed to” live. I was so uncertain of how to do this that the girl went down further and lost her voice completely while the compliant part of me looked for enforcers that would help keep me on the straight and narrow.
By the time Dan and I found one another, I had grown more and more ashamed of the girl I had buried. It seemed like every time I tried to mention her to my family, who I knew had all the best intentions for me, they would tell me that I was just focusing too much on that part of me. They communicated that the more I focused on it the harder my life would be. I stopped talking to them about her and I started praying for a worthy priesthood holder that would love all the parts of me. I know Dan was the answer to those prayers because when we first started talking it was like that buried little girl was pounding from the inside. She didn’t want out, but she wanted me to tell him all about her. She wanted to know if he would love her too, and he did. I wasn’t the only one who had buried a part of myself. Dan had his own little boy buried for different reasons, and I saw God’s intention for bringing us together early on. Those wounded versions of us that believed there was no safe place to exist in the world found hope and renewal as they were truly loved and seen for the first time. It sounds like a total cliché, but Dan taught me how to love that little girl in me enough that she had permission to exist. She didn’t just have permission. She also developed a courage of her own and a hunger to find a place in the light. I will be forever grateful for the purity of the love that made that possible.
Sandra asked, “If God had an intention in bringing you together, what changed?”
I had known I was unavoidably headed to the place where that question would surface. It didn’t change the physiological response that came as I tried to find the words to answer. My heart started racing, my cheeks began a slow and steady burn to dark pink, my breath suddenly became something I had to focus on controlling, and then there was the pull in my gut I’d learned to deal with over the last several months. I gave Sandra a look that may have looked like regret and confusion mixed with joy and gratitude. That is how I always felt when I tried to explain it all.
I simply replied, “A woman.”
I paused as I stared back at Sandra’s puffy face. The emotional toll of seeing myself in her and the struggle to find the right words to speak about my experience hampered my ability to explain any further at that moment. Sandra must have sensed it because she simply followed my lead as I sipped on the tea that was now cool enough to enjoy without scorching one’s tongue. I set my mug down on the coffee table in front of me and used the sleeves of my robe to wipe the tears that started forming without my consent. It would have been so easy at this point to divert to a place where I didn’t feel like I was snowballing to a place of extreme discomfort, but as I looked back at Sandra’s swollen green eyes my comfort level became less of a concern than helping her feel a little hope.
I took a deep breath and continued, “About the time I began giving this buried little girl permission to exist, I started looking for opportunities to be more involved in the LDS LGBTQ community. I remember promising Dan that it would never change our marriage or family, and in the beginning it brought nothing but good because this little girl felt cared for. Loved. She had hope that there was a place in the light, and she belonged there.”
I smiled, “Then I met Jackie. In the beginning I felt an instant connection that came because I felt like for the first time in my life I had met someone whose life experiences were so much like my own. It brought a comfort unlike any I ever expected to feel again because she reminded me of so many friends in my former life that I had written off when I decided to come back to church because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. People assume that being attracted to the same sex is something purely physical that happens instantaneously, and for me that has rarely been the case. I didn’t even acknowledge at the time that what I was experiencing was anything more than finding a good friend who I wanted to know better. Looking back I recognize what took place early on, and I wish I had been more willing to see it then. It would have saved me a LOT of grief.”
I stopped to chuckle to myself because that is all you can do sometimes when you replay your life from a new and improved lens.
“What’s so funny?” Sandra asked.
I internally played through months of awkward interactions, e-mails, messages. I revisited my old mentality like it was an old friend. I held on to the grace I was learning to have for it. I cleared my throat and decided to save us both some time because the lessons I learned could be crafted into a handbook for what NOT to do when you are trying to reconcile your faith and sexuality. Then I remembered--grace, Moira. Grace.
To her question, I replied, “Nothing, but everything. I’ll just say that it has been a journey where some days I feel like a giant ass and other days I feel blessed beyond measure because of the way my experiences have shaped me. It has strengthened my relationship…well…completely renovated my relationship with the Savior. I didn’t really know him like I thought I did, and above all else this is the greatest gift I’ve received. I think every person’s experience will be unique. I personally have learned that it is messy. There isn’t a lot in our culture that provides guidance on how to navigate this road, and because of that I think grace needs to be present. Grace for ourselves, for others, and grace from God over all of us.”
Sandra looked at me with a softer and more hopeful expression on her face. The empath in me breathed in a little of that relief and relaxed back into my couch being mindful of my slowed pulse and regulated breathing.
“When did you know it was more than just feeling a friendly connection? Can you explain how it is different than the way you felt for Dan?”
I felt tension because this question had come up before with others and it always made me want to come undone. It was complicated to define that it was more than just body parts and chemical reactions…there was something about what my soul experienced. I had only recently been able to identify it personally. When I looked back at Sandra I could feel that peace was beginning to visibly settle in her. I recognized that there was a catharsis in sharing with her and it felt like a two-way answer to prayer. I was grateful that the peace was settling in my soul as well so the tension faded as I thoughtfully shifted in my seat before continuing.
“I know I keep talking about this little girl, but she has played a significant role in my journey. Dan loved this little girl more unconditionally than anyone in my life, but finding him was the answer to a prayer that was spoken by a woman who didn’t know the little girl could have a place in the light. It was spoken with the hope that I could find a man that would simply love me. It was a prayer to find a destination, not to find someone to make a journey together with. When I look back at how my feelings began developing for Jackie I recognize that it wasn’t a feeling of finding a destination. It was a feeling that my soul rose to meet hers. The little girl was knocking from the inside, and she did want out. She didn’t want to simply be kept safe anymore. Does that make sense?”
Sandra simply nodded, and I took that as a signal to continue.
“I guess I just felt grateful for the feeling I had when I was around her – the feeling of wanting to be a better person, and that is what I took from our infrequent interactions. I could see the type of woman I wanted to be…. The type of woman I knew deep inside had been stunted by life circumstances. I would look forward to the moments where I could be around Jackie, but kept the idea of anything beyond that far outside of my mind.”
I told Sandra that eventually I felt challenged by a prompting to not run from feelings of attraction that had started developing for Jackie. I had come across a blog post that talked about how people mistook feelings of attraction for sin, but really they were just a message from our bodies to our brains. We could choose what to do with that message. I was invited to participate in a project I knew Jackie would be very involved with and I felt like it was the Lord trying to help me learn how to deal with feelings of the natural man. I told Sandra that knowing Jackie was going to be involved made me so uncomfortable that I actually prayed to ask the Lord if I really needed to participate. There were so many other things going on in my life at the time at home, but I felt like the Lord almost insisted that the project was something that he needed me to do.
“How did that go? Was it a terrible experience?” Jackie asked.
I wished that it had been. Maybe if it was a terrible experience it would have been easier to distance myself.
“Unfortunately, no,” I responded.
I laughed to myself at the thought that nothing in my life ever seems to be simple enough to have black and white reactions. There is always complexity, but that night sitting next to Sandra I felt an appreciation for the ways that I was strengthened because of it.
“We could talk about my journey all night,” I told her.
“The fact is – it is my journey, and I honestly don’t know if or when there will ever be a real resolution to the Jackie situation. I have hope of what I think the Lord wants, but I had to come to the realization that whatever my future holds is in His hands. Over the last year, I have embraced my feelings, run from them, tried to mask them, tried to get rid of them…anything but to actually have to feel them. He’s shown me evidence after evidence that if I want to move forward in my journey that I just have to learn to carry these feelings along with me. It isn’t simple or easy. It is a battle. It is a journey. It is a gift. I guess the most important thing was learning how to free that little girl inside. I spent most of my life keeping her buried in some form or another, but this experience definitely provided the fuel I needed to free her, and to find myself in the process."
“How did you learn how to free her, Moira? How did you know that she was even there?”
“Well that’s easy. Three words. Theee-raaaa-pyyyy. The soul stirring kind. The kind that requires self-care to recover from. The kind that pushes you hard enough to be hungry for more. Having a trained professional to help you sift through and prioritize your life is the greatest gift you will ever give yourself. It produced in me a will to fight. To fight because I could see where I didn’t want to be. I could see who I had left behind. I left her behind and lived for ten years as a shell of the person I thought I was supposed to be. Because that is what I assumed God wanted for me, but I never asked him what he actually wanted until I got the little girl out.”
I could tell that Sandra was fighting serious internal battles because her eyes were blank but ticking as if replaying memories. I let her sit there like that in her thoughts while I offered a warm smile for when she returned to the current moment.
A few moments later she whimpered, “But the prophet said that…”
Her head hung and her eyes closed as if ashamed, “Moira, do you think we are confused? Rob knows something is wrong, and I’m afraid I’m going to break his heart. Cordelia is…it’s like I’ve always known her. We went to the temple last week to pray for help. I guess I thought that being there with her would remind me what I should really be focused on, but it only confused me more because it was like…I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.”
I knew that feeling well. It produced a strange feeling of familiar comfort, but mostly, fear.
“It’s okay to be afraid,” I said gently, “I think that being afraid brings us closer to God. That has been the case for me anyhow. Leave yourself room to be afraid. I don’t know why, but somehow giving yourself permission now will help you to have more courage when you need it.”
“I’m not just afraid, I’m terrified, Moira. I don’t even know where to begin navigating any of this. I just know that when I sat next to a woman on the night I decided to attend my first ARP meeting since I had returned from my mission the spirit whispered, ‘She can help you.’ I honestly hadn’t even acknowledged why I even needed help. I just knew my disordered eating had returned, and it took another couple of weeks until I realized you were gay. Then I knew exactly why I so awkwardly approached you to be my sponsor.”
The spirit was so strong in my living room that night as we both were able to feel the tender mercy involved in us becoming friends. It filled me with an awareness that God is so mindful of all of His children. I’m sure it did the same for Sandra as well because I saw her face soften in intensity before she covered her mouth and nose with one hand and softly bowed her head. Like she was saying a silent thank you.
“Do you think it is inevitable that Rob and I will get a divorce? Is this how it all begins? I just can’t imagine…”
Her voice cracked and her eyes closed again. I paused for this wave of grief to pass. She kept her eyes fixed on mine looking for me to answer for her. I could feel the desperation in her desire to know.
“I can’t answer that for you, Sandra, but I know who can. There is only one, and that is God. I don’t believe there is any one right answer because we are all unique individuals in unique circumstances. I think what I learned for myself is that he wants me to have joy and he wants me to develop and grow. My marriage was one that hindered both of those things for me and I felt that God knew that as well as I did. That isn’t the case in every mixed orientation marriage and I guess that is the trickiest part in navigating this road. I learned to feel his direction and grace and to just trust him.”
Sandra’s phone buzzed and she looked down to see it was Rob calling.
She wiped her tears as though he’d be able to see them before answering, “Hey honey.”
There was a pause as he must have been asking where she was. I looked at my clock on the wall and didn’t realize it was already after midnight.
“I’m so sorry. I just lost track of time. I came to talk to Moira. It’s just been one of those weeks. I’ll be home soon…Okay. Love you, bye.”
She looked up at me and I felt the hope that had found a place to dwell in her. She thanked me for listening and for sharing a part of my heart with her.
“I’ll always be here to listen,” I said.
I walked her to the door, and before I could open it she threw her arms around me and squeezed me until a little air escaped.
“Really, Moira. You have no idea how much I needed this tonight.”
I smiled at her because I did know how much she needed it. I don’t know if she would ever quite understand how sharing my heart with her had helped me in the process. I replied with my air constricted voice, “I’m so glad it helped,” and then upon realizing how hard she was squeezing she laughed and released her hug. I smiled and waved as she made her way into the winter night, and then locked the door, headed down the hall, and found sleep without any tossing or turning.