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By Spencer Mickelson
Often I will find myself listening to music, gazing out the window, lost in thought. I wonder how the pioneers felt as they crossed the plains. I wonder about the winter hitting them with icy fists and robbing the lives from the hungry mouths of so many only to be buried in shallow cold graves. I wonder about the children of Israel in the wilderness. The walls of flame, the parting seas, the scouring sand, the hunger, the thirst, the hope, the plagues, and the pestilence. I wonder about the black members of the church who waited, lived, and died hoping to be recognized as equals to the other privileged races within the LDS faith. I wonder about the youth who are losing hope, who lose themselves, who bleed, and cry, and hide, and sometimes tragically die. Sometimes I picture myself sitting across from one of these characters in my mind’s eye, listening to their story. I wait to hear what they think and feel and do, perched on the edge of my imagination. And when the words are all said and they have shared with me what their cumulative life entailed, I am left to contemplate the consistent difficulty, even sometimes increasing difficulty, of their existence.
The last three years I have had the privilege of the attending the annual Affirmation conference each September. This year, the most recent conference, felt different. The previous conferences had been filled with momentum generating from the passionate work of so many to create a space that affirmed both religious faith and being LGBTQIA+. It seemed there was hope and joy and an abundance of people who were “getting it” inside and outside the community. The only time I have felt that same spirit of unity and work so intensely was on my mission. There again I felt that push, momentum, and work toward an aspirational goal. There was a drive to help people find peace and develop tools to increase their happiness. There was every indication that the church was warming it’s approach to the LGBTQIA+. Voices were being heard, paths were being paved, and the wheels of change were turning. Then November 2015 the new policy rolled out to the disappointment and pain of many. Hopes once abundant were crushed, progress was halted, and voices were silenced. Stories of exclusion, confused loved ones, and rifts between families began to litter the virtual landscape of the internet. Where there had been hope there was sadness. Where there was momentum there was stagnation and rot. Where there was clarity in purpose there was confusion and befuddlement. On the clear pathway to a better state things had taken a deep turn for the worse. This recent conference was made up more of licking our wounds, sharing our pain, and holding each other close. It was perhaps more intimate in that regard as we comforted each other midst the settling dust of our evaporated hope.
One might look at these three conferences and ask why God would instill such hope for a better future among a people, give them truth and love, when there was a worse time coming. I found myself asking that same question. Then as though a blindness were being lifted from me, I realized how consistent the message from God was and discovered something new about hope. Too often we associate hope with the weak, the disenfranchised, the victims. We give it this somewhat pathetic connotation instead of internalizing it as a foundation of power and resolve. Hope is not about waiting passively or a lack of strength. Hope is not about giving the power of change to someone or something else. Hope is not what we hold on to when things are improving. Hope is the core of our strength when things get worse, because hope is not independent. In fact it is wholly dependent on us. Hope is believing we will get stronger as the opposition increases. Hope is trusting that the conditioning of our muscles in good times will provide us with the resolve, determination, and grit to push through the worse times.
I believe that life is a test. I do not know of any test that becomes increasingly easy in its course. It seems that each subsequent test should be more difficult, require more thought, and in so doing push those being tested into new knowledge and strength. This is the plan. This is the way. Not around, not above, not below, but through. So when I imagine my friends, the pioneers of diverse ways and of different generations, I hear them say, “Life will get harder. Opposition will increase. Things will get worse. But we will whether the storm. We will soar into greater knowledge and wisdom. We will get stronger.”