26 June 2008

Weeds

Kneeling on the stone wall, my bare toes resting on damp earth, I weeded my boss's garden that she planted at the edge of woods on her property. I barely noticed as the sun continued to set as I threw myself into my latest task and avoided thinking about a lot of things.

At least, not directly.

And after two days of work in her four very large flower beds, I have had plenty of time to converse with Heavenly Father about many things.

I asked about my predicament--to understand how to better serve my friend who had entrusted me with a secret so far beyond my understanding, I have handled it with next to no grace at all.




And He taught me about weeds.

I noticed that weeds are usually simple to pull. Some are smaller than my finger in their youth, with barely any root at all. It's almost tempting to leave many of them behind when you look down the side of a house and see the daunting size of a flowerbed that is ridden with weeds yet to be addressed.

How much like temptation, came the whispered statement to my mind.

But the comparison of evil to weeds seemed so tired and subjective. What makes a flower so different from a weed? A few blossoms dictate which plants I am told to pull from the ground and throw into the woods, and which plants I will protect and nurture? Because I only have the task of tending to these flowerbeds because my boss's son doused them all in weed killer--he thought he was "helping,"--but I have to say: there isn't much of a difference between a dead flower from a dead weed from where I was sitting. It all seemed so superficial, but I held my tongue and let the whisper speak.

Weed pulling has been a two-day project. On the first day, I started in the large, stone flowerbeds that were built into the patio. The first flowerbed barely had anything for me to pull. As the most accessible bed, I could see it received the most attention. I probably plucked more dead heads (withered blossoms) than weeds. And when the work was done, seeing the flowers in their thriving, perfect corner of the world really was a pleasant image. Starting with that bed gave me an understanding of what it is I'm trying to create by getting rid of weeds, and the importance of the first thing I learned that day: always pull any weed you see, no matter how small. Chances are excellent (but not guaranteed) that weeding is easier when the weeds are small.

One of the elevated beds right up against the house was full of orange lilies of some kind. They grew so tall, I only noticed a few weeds poking up among the tops of their skyward blossoms. But when I pulled back their leaves, I saw them. They were everywhere. Clover, grasses, tiny vines. It was then that I learned my second lesson about weeds--always look for them, even if you think you won't find any, because part of their design is to go unnoticed.

The ground level bed next to the basement door was no pleasant task, but it was necessary. Just like the bed that received a lot of attention and represented the ideal, this bed was nothing but weeds and represented how inherently unruly and unappealing weeds are. You sit down to tend to them, and there's almost no way to tell where one begins and the others end. Pulling haphazardly does not get the job done any faster, even though you know everything has to come out anyway, because they all grow in different directions. In order to get them out, you have to go to each weed's source. Finding it can be the majority of the challenge, especially anything that spreads like a vine. But once you start pinching at the origin of tangles, instead of at the tangles themselves, you'd be surprised at how easily the entire thing comes out of the ground.

My least favorite area, and the most difficult area, was on the side of the house beside a stone path. The path leads to the driveway, and the crevices between the stones were dotted with many, many weeds. These had already been sprayed with weed killer, but that made them even more difficult to pull because the little tufts of grass--almost too small to grasp--would break off in my hands unless I gripped and pulled them just right. And the bed between the house and this path was no better. The ground was hard and dry with lots of rocks. The weeds were easy to see, of every size and variety, and were practically daring me to pull them. Even when I pinched at the origins of even the most unassuming weeds, they would break off in my hands because the roots were packed into the parched ground too tightly. I puzzled over what to do for several minutes as I rested, until I finally pulled a hose over and doused the ground. It didn't make sense--weeds need water, so why am I going to feed them in order to kill them--but that brought to mind the story of Jael in Judges. She fed the enemy, Sisera, only to drive a nail through his head once he was asleep. Likewise, sometimes weeds have to be tolerated patiently before they can be pulled. And because it was high noon by the time I got to this bed, I eventually moved on to one of the others without finishing.

I started on the bed next to the woods. After planting the flowers she left for me--my favorite calla lilies--I began to work my way down the wall, pulling weeds as I went. I quickly learned about the value of reinforcements--the weeds certainly had them. Worms, frogs, bugs, and plenty of other things that are "gross" and make me leap away from the bed in girlish horror. But not to be outdone, I drenched myself in bug spray (thank goodness for girl's camp leftovers) and continued for a little while longer. The sun was beginning to set, and I was beginning to feel the effects of the day.

And now as that next-to-last bed is nearing completion, I realize what this parable of the weeds has taught me.

Working against temptation is necessary, and it's always going to get your hands dirty. Calmly and patiently identify the source. Pull from there, and don't expect it to work on the first attempt. Watch out for outside forces. And for the love of all things sacred and holy, don't make it worse. Hacking away at your vices (or someone else's), even when it appears constructive, hardly ever is. You might just break off what may be your only opportunity to do the good you intended to do.

I know a lot about that because of the situation I threw myself into a couple of days ago with Boyfriend (henceforth to be called The Patient One, because he certainly has to be to deal with his problem, and all the ways I've made it worse.)

I don't know much about the weed he is facing. And part of me desires to do nothing less than to reach into his life somehow and just pull it out. I'm accepting more and more every day that I do not have the ability to do that, and that I shouldn't pretend like I do. It makes me put my expectations and my hopes in all the wrong places--mostly on myself. And since this was back before I knew anything about weeding, I approached it like I do most other things in my own life--fully prepared with a fully-loaded arsenal and a plan of attack. And when he wouldn't let me, I guess my thought process at 1 a.m. was to be more forceful, because the message--no the accusations I sent him were terribly lacking in respect, compassion, and tact.

Needless to say, he responded like anyone else would: in defense of himself and making accusations of his own about my imperfections. It was like yanking on a thorned weed with my bare hands, and then staring at the cuts in my hands and marvelling at the fact that they were bleeding.

And while I know I've hurt him deeply, and he isn't really speaking to me right now, I'm just hoping that The Patient One will be as forgiving as he has been patient with me. Because as clumsy and misguided as I have been with what he revealed to me, I am doing everything I can to accept it...

Who would have thought that believing it and accepting it would prove to be two different weeds?

17 June 2008

Confession



When I got to church on Sunday, I was already feeling a little better. I had said my prayers, read my scriptures, taken advice from a friend, and played phone tag in order to make an appointment with my bishop. The storm had lifted, and the hardest, most disorienting part was over. But I had to choose a new heading, the direction in which I would go in the days and weeks ahead. I needed the guidance I knew only God could give me, so after attending two sacrament meetings (mine and the Young Single Adults), taking the sacrament twice (did you know the missionaries take it every time they're in a sacrament meeting?), and killing some time in the Gospel Doctrine class, I finally met with my bishop.



What I had to tell him wasn't as difficult to say as I thought it was going to be. And by the time I was sitting in front of him, I was sick of bearing the weight alone. I told him everything--about what Boyfriend had confided in me, how much I was struggling to cope and understand what I was supposed to do, and the mistakes I had made in the process. I told him a little more about myself and some of what I've been through so he could better understand where I am in my life. He was probably surprised to hear some of it--I know I don't look like the type be self-destructive in general. But I knew I was doing the right thing by telling the truth, and I would only be hurting myself by keeping these things to myself at this point.

He advised me that I should encourage Boyfriend to talk to his bishop, and he told me that it would be possible for Boyfriend to do so without his parents knowing about it. Then Bishop Mullins gave me a blessing, which I was more than eager to receive.

...that I will more fully rely on my Heavenly Father and pursue my
relationship with Him...


...that I will always remember to say my prayers and read my scriptures
to more fully understand my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus
Christ...


...that I will feel their love for me and know that they care...

...that I will be able to pursue that which is good and noble in the
times ahead...


...that I will be willing and inspired on how to speak to Boyfriend about
going to see his bishop...

When I opened my eyes, I wasn't crying anymore. I felt the peace with which I had been blessed. And while I still had the task in front of me to talk to Boyfriend, I knew that telling him the truth would be the easiest thing for me to do, that the words would come easily if I told him exactly what was in my heart and what I had been prompted to tell him.

So I did. I sat down and wrote him a long message about all I had learned in the past few days from my prayers, scriptures, the people in which I had confided, and the blessing I had received. I told him that I would stand by him through all of this because I care about him. I told him that I'm glad he shared his secret with me, even though my initial reaction to it probably made him wonder if that was the right thing to do. But with each day that comes and goes, I feel better about what I've learned from this, and all the things he and I will learn together in the days ahead.

And while I have no idea where we're headed, and that scares the hell out of me, I guess it doesn't matter. He knows what He has planned for us. He made us promises before we came here, and He intends to keep them.

In the meantime, I plan on keeping mine. I gave Boyfriend my word that I wouldn't give up on him, and that when I arrived in Utah for college I would be glad to see him again. Somehow, I think we have a lot of things to learn and work through until then. But we'll get through it the same way we got through three years of being together with a giant secret between us.

One day at a time.

12 June 2008

Coming Out

Boyfriend came back from Utah to visit for graduation. After several months of difficult conversations, loneliness, and such that I've faced with my closest friend being so far away, it was such a relief to have him home again.

After a week of spending time with me and his friends, he and I were sitting together on our friend's dock one day. He turned to me and said there was something he needed to tell me, but he didn't think he'd be able to say it. I encouraged him to talk to me. I reminded him of the trust he claimed to have instilled in me. Finally, fearing that his secret was one that perhaps ought not to be kept, begged him to tell me. Eventually, his silence got to be too heavy for me, and I gave up. We changed the subject.

Last night was very similar. We knew he would be leaving today, and tried to make the most of our remaining hours together. He was very close to me; asking me if there was anything I needed, always sitting close to me and reaching out to me with a ready hand. Perhaps that doesn't seem so atypical of a couple of teenagers in a relationship, but Boyfriend has never been like that. For as long as I've known him, and for as long as we've been together (about 3 years now), he has been very careful and conservative in ANY display of physical affection with me. It's something I respect very much about him, and have never questioned. So while I was, I guess you would say suspicious of the difference, I didn't think all that much of it.

Then he took me to the end of the dock, where we would share one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had.




We have never been afraid to be content with silence. We love to sit together and allow the beauty of nature to speak the thoughts we sometimes are unable to say. Last night was no different. The sky was a lovely pastel blue that blended like watercolor with the distant horizon, with a half-full moon poised perfectly at the end of the dock. And because the world was beautiful, I was afraid to ask him what he was keeping from me. But I knew that if I didn't ask him now, he might never tell me. I suspected that for one reason or another he would be breaking up with me, and I knew I couldn't allow something like that to go unsaid.

So I pushed the moment to its crisis. I asked him to tell me what he was keeping from me, and I'll never forget the way his face fell. He told me quietly that he could not bring himself to say the words. He told me that he hates himself for his struggle, that he didn't want me to think any less of him, and that he couldn't bare to see my reaction when he finally did tell me. I pleaded with him with all the yearnings of my heart--reminding him of how much he means to me, of what he has brought to my life as the person who helped me to convert, as someone I have trusted with more of myself than he will ever know. And after a pause and a silence that I swear could have cracked Heaven open wide, he restated his problem, and I repeated more of my desires to be close to him now, to help him with whatever it was.

This went on until the sun went down, and the moon rose higher and higher into the sky.

Finally, the silence cleaved us both in two. I cracked first, and he held me as everything spilled out from my secret hiding places. I told him of my weaknesses, how much I relied on him in so many ways to help me keep the pieces of my life together--how much I've struggled without him here. As I released my thoughts, gave them words, I felt as if I were casting stone after stone from my chest and watching them sink and into the murky depths of the Chesapeake.

I guess he must have felt something in my confession, because he finally let go. He took my embrace and allowed me to hold him as he shed tears that I couldn't understand. I crooned and whispered maternal nothings to him because it felt right somehow.

It's OK...

No, it's not.

You don't know that.

Yes, I do.

It's OK... It's OK... It's OK...

And again the silence.

I begged for the truth. I would not allow him to be Prufrock this time. I needed to know what he was keeping from me--what was keeping him from trusting me the way I had always trusted him.

Finally, the words escaped in such a wild fury I barely understood them.


"I struggle with same-gender attraction."





He leaped away from my shocked and breathless shell to the other side of the dock. He never saw me reel as my entire universe came to a grinding halt and my orbit changed directions forever. But because caring about him is the only thing my lonely little planet knows how to do, I returned to my sun.

"Look at me."

He refused.

"Please look at me, and see that I haven't changed."

Tear stained eyes found me and nearly broke my heart all over again. But I looked him in the eye until he smiled and knew that I would never leave him--not like he feared. Not like a secret, scared part of me wished I could.

"I'm so proud of you for telling me. Some people have gone their entire lives without being able to say what you have said."

I didn't know what to say after that, so I didn't say anything. I let the gravity of what he was telling me pull me into a new frontier where I had never travelled before. I thought of him--the jokes that everyone made about us with their talk of a marriage that I wanted to believe in. I thought of his parents, who have already "lost" one wayward son this week to the Marine Corps. I thought of his new life in Utah--how many times he had called it, and tried to make it "a new start."

And I thought of all the times I had made jokes about homosexuality, had given root to ugly prejudices, and I was ashamed of myself.

"I'm so sorry," I said through violent, trembling sobs. "I'm so sorry."

He understood that I wasn't giving him pity. He knew my compassion, and the apology that I hoped was also coming from Heavenly Father to His son for the cross he has already borne in secrecy. How desperately I hope that to be true.

But as I stood with him on the end of that dock, I knew if I examined my testimony, it would have a large crack. Fixable, but present. If only my dearest friend, someone who asks for so little and deserves so much, could say the same.

He had asked me before his confession if I would promise to still be his friend, to talk to him--essentially, not to abandon him now that I knew his secret. I gave him that promise, even though I have no idea how to keep it at this time.

What do I do with the feelings I have for him? They're not platonic. They haven't been since I met him. I've only ever destroyed lingering feelings like this that I can't escape... I can't do that now. It would ruin our friendship, and he needs me. I need him...

A glaring truth amid tempests and cracking testimonies.

I need this young man in my life, and he needs me. He needs to know that there is a place for him in this world, and I can teach him how to find it. I know I can. And he can teach me how to stand on my own now that I feel like it's impossible. On our own, he and I cannot do this. But together, we will not fall.

"I still stand by what I said," I stated, referencing something I had mentioned earlier in the week from a different context. "You can't do this alone. So do me a favor and please talk to me more than you have in the past."

"It'll be easier now that half of what I say to you doesn't have to be a lie or a secret," he commented.

"Well," I replied simply, "make sure you take back all of your words."

I asked him if I could talk to my mom about this because I knew I needed her. I promised him that his secret would be safe with my family and with me.

That was when our friends came to find us. They continued to call us lovebirds like they always had, and I was grateful it was dark so they couldn't see how much it hurt me. I didn't walk with Boyfriend (who will be needing a new title), but I didn't allow myself to get too far from him...




That was two days ago, and it already feels like I've been bearing this weight for so much longer. Thinking of all the memories I've shared with him; the dances, the dates, the times I've felt separated from him even when he was standing right next to me, and it all makes perfect sense... I think that's what hurts now. All this time I've wanted the truth from him, and it has cost me everything I didn't want to pay to finally get it...

And of course, God has been as puzzling and quiet as ever.

But perhaps that's for the best. I admit, I'm so furious with where Boyfriend and I are right now, part of me wants to hate myself for ever putting my trust in a God that would do this to us.

I think of the life that Boyfriend will never have. No temple marriage. No children. No answers to why he should live this way--feel this way. A lonely, celibate young man with nothing to look forward to in a family's church. And it makes me angry. They've preached to us in EFY and Sunday School and Youth Conferences about how life is supposed to work--baptism at 8, mission at 19, temple marriage, children, grandchildren, repeat. And no answers as to where to go or what to do when that just doesn't work out.

I think of the future I wanted to share with him, and still would if there was any way. I think of the prayers I've said in the past two days, the scriptures I've read, the pleas for SOMETHING I can understand from my Heavenly Father, and all He has told me is that endurance is necessary and miracles are possible.

And I want to believe it. I want to believe it so badly, it brings tears to my eyes. But I don't know if I can right now. Not today. And I'm not the one who has to believe it anyway, so what does it matter? At the end of the day, I'm not the one suffering the most. I see that now. After holding Boyfriend's weeping, bowed head to my chest, I see now who suffers most.

And that's what kills me. That is what ripped and tore, and now aches and throbs...

So I have myself on auto-pilot right now. I cry when I have to (which is a lot), I pray when I can stand it (which isn't often at the moment), and I'm going to call and make an appointment with my new bishop for Sunday. The fact that he is a complete stranger will help me to throw up this part of my universe in front of him. I plan to ask him for a blessing, and hopefully I'll find some clarity in it. And not even for my sake, but for Boyfriend's... he's the one I care about right now.

(Funny how some things never change.)

I have to believe there's something we can do... some way out of this mess. Some hope for, if not what we planned, for something better than what we now anticipate.

Until then, I guess Boyfriend will just have to settle for being a Heretic like the rest of us who don't fit the molds that the youth in the Church deal with so much--those of us who pay a high price to be ourselves when we're taught every Sunday to be... something else.

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