My Affirmation Conference Miracle
By Wendy Montgomery
On September 21, 2017, a miracle took place in my family. Before I tell you what happened, let me back up and share a bit of my history so you understand why this truly was a miracle for us.
I grew up in a very devout, orthodox LDS home. Every part of our life was influenced by the gospel. I loved learning about the Church. I read voraciously. I was always asking questions. I loved seminary, Young Women’s, EFY. I loved having gospel conversations with my dad. The church was my life. I grew up and got married in the temple to an incredible man. We had five children and were raising them in much the same way we were raised.
But in January of 2012, my neatly ordered, perfect Mormon world was turned upside down when we discovered that our then 13-year old son was gay. My rock-solid foundation started to crumble as I frantically searched for how to navigate this as a believing Mormon. How do I protect and support my son? Where does my son fit into the Plan of Salvation? In my searching and pleading for help from God, I discovered many new truths and started to rebuild my foundation. I started to understand that just because we may not know how gay people fit into the Plan of Salvation doesn’t mean God doesn’t know; and hasn’t ALWAYS known. I learned that I don’t have to have answers for everything and that it’s okay to just have faith, even if the not knowing is uncomfortable. I learned that who my son is is who God wants him to be. He came to me whole and perfect, and I wouldn’t change a thing about him. I began meeting many gay Mormons and hearing their stories. Stories that moved me to my core and showed me a whole new level of faith, endurance and testimony. The pain that our Mormon LGBT brothers and sisters face is like nothing we straight members have ever experienced. They are a battered but beautiful community that I have come to love with my whole heart.
Because of my very close relationship with my parents and siblings, I became increasingly anxious to share all that I was learning with them. I wanted them to see what I was seeing and feel what I was feeling; to see their grandson and nephew as the incredible human he is. In the beginning, I brought up the conversation often. I emailed them links to articles, sent them books, invited them to Mormon LGBT events, and so on. In my newfound excitement and zeal on this subject, I assumed they would move as fast as I had. They didn’t. At times, it felt like there wasn’t any movement at all. There were deeply hurtful things said about my son. My heart was broken again and again. It became increasingly difficult for me to attend family events, have conversations, and try to stay connected. Often I just wanted to disassociate myself from them because it hurt too much. I wanted SO BADLY for them to understand. I was frustrated and impatient, but tried to not let that come across in our interactions. Sometimes I was successful at this. Other times I failed miserably.
In my family’s defense, the church sends some really conflicting messages on the subject of homosexuality. I think they were trying to navigate how to be loving and accepting of us while still being true to the church and teachings from some church leaders. Outdated myths, stereotypes and misconceptions also played a part in how they dealt with this new reality in their life.
I recognize that this is a journey for all of us. Some have moved faster than others. My husband and I had to move the fastest because this was our son. He was struggling and needed full support from us, which he had from day one. But our extended family wasn’t ready for that yet. There was never a question if they loved us. We knew they did. But not being seen and valued for who you are is very painful. To be pitied, to be seen as less than because you may not fit the perfect Mormon mold, to have to pretend to be something else for the comfort of those around you … these things are unbearable. The most important thing for most people, especially teenagers, is to be accepted. Jordan didn’t feel like he was with his extended family. He became increasingly reticent to spend time with some of his extended family. It was a balancing act for me to try and hold on to treasured relationships with my siblings and parents, while supporting and defending my son. For more than five years, I shed buckets of tears over what felt like a fracturing of my family.
Things came to a head three months ago, when I had an exchange with my dad about Jordan that left me shattered, and doubting that Jordan’s grandpa would ever see or understand Jordan the way I did. This moment felt like the final straw. I didn’t know how to stay in a relationship with people who saw my son in the way he seemed to.
So I confided in my older brother, who has been unwavering in his love and support of Jordan and me, even when I know it hasn’t always been easy for him. I told him what was said, what’s been said for years, and how hurt I was feeling. He asked my permission to talk to our parents, which I gave. My brother went to my parents’ home and had a 2-hour conversation with them, saying many of the same things I have said to them over the years. I don’t know if it was the timing or the messenger, but they heard it from him when they couldn’t hear it from me. It doesn’t matter to me who they heard it from, as long as the message was received. My dad called me the next day and we had a beautiful and emotional conversation. I felt heard for the first time in years. It meant so much to me! I was so grateful for my dad’s humility and willingness to really listen.
In an effort to show their love and support to Jordan and me, my parents decided to attend the annual Affirmation conference with us in Provo, Utah this past weekend. Affirmation is the world’s largest Mormon LGBT organization. I am on its Board of Directors. This conference is my favorite weekend of the whole year. It has been a dream of mine for years to have my parents and siblings attend this conference. I so deeply wanted them to feel the overwhelming spirit that is present at Affirmation. I wanted them to see this Christlike mission in action, and to experience a place of such unconditional love and non-judgment. At Affirmation I see baptismal covenants being kept in a real and tangible way. At Affirmation I see people mourn with those that mourn, I see them comfort those that stand in need of comfort. I wanted them to meet these incredible people and fall in love with them as I had.
I know, for my parents, attending this conference was a huge step outside of their comfort zone. But now for the first time they were willing to do that for me and for Jordan. This was amazing for me to witness. I will admit to feeling a lot of anxiety at their coming. I felt like so much was riding on this for me, for Jordan, for them and for the healing of our family. I had a constant prayer in my heart that they would be touched, that they would truly see.
Before my parents got into town, Jordan went shopping and bought his grandma two outfits. Giving gifts is my sweet son’s love language. It’s how he shows his gratitude and love. Having his grandparents at Affirmation meant SO MUCH to Jordan. This tenderhearted boy was struggling with tears (happy tears) for days, knowing what his grandparents were willing to do for him. Jordan’s clothing gift deeply touched my mom (and she looked beautiful in them).
The first class we went to was for first time attendees to Affirmation. The facilitators of that class asked that, if we were comfortable, we go around the room and share a little about why we were there and what we hoped to get out of the weekend. The room was packed with people sitting on the floor because there weren’t enough chairs. My parents heard stories of parents trying to keep suicidal gay teens safe and of LGBTQ members of the church struggling with where they fit in a church they loved so much. They witnessed firsthand the pain, trauma, and soul-crushing heartbreak of LGBTQ Mormons; but also their faith, hope and incredible inner strength. I watched my parents weep. And I wept. When it was my dad’s turn to share, he said, “I’m here this weekend to learn how to better support my daughter and grandson, and to learn more about this organization that made the light come back on in both of them through a really trying time in their lives.” Wow! His comment was so beautiful, open and loving. When the class was over, my dad said, “Wendy, why don’t more people know about this? You need to advertise this conference more! Everyone needs to be here and to hear this.” I chuckled inwardly since I had invited my parents for years to attend this conference with me. Maybe the timing wasn’t right before, but I began feeling that the timing was right now.
The next morning, we attended the parents and allies workshop. We broke into small circles of about 20 people in each circle. We went around the circle with each person sharing as much or as little of their story as they were comfortable. When it got to my dad, he said, “I have watched my daughter over the years and have seen the deep emotional cost she has paid to educate herself and her family on these issues. She has paid the price to educate me, and teach me how to love better.” I was instantly a puddle of tears. I wonder if my dad will ever know how much that one sentence meant to me. My mom was next. She talked about the outfits Jordan bought her and how much it touched her. She was emotional as she spoke about how much she loved him, her oldest grandson. Then she said, “I don’t want to go shopping with my granddaughters anymore. I want to go shopping with my gay grandson! Everyone needs a shopping buddy like him.” We all laughed. I loved how she was able to joke and be funny and lighthearted, like it was the most natural thing in the world to have a gay grandson and how much fun it is to shop with him.
The next workshop we attended was the Church Leadership class. The presenters did an excellent job. They were thorough, knowledgeable, tactful and faithful in their presentations. My parents loved this class. It was so well done.
We attended several other classes, all of which were informative and moving. In just about every class, my parents shed tears. Throughout the day, my dad kept saying things like, “I had no idea. I had no idea.” And, “I feel like I’m seeing with new eyes.” And, “There is so much pain here, but so much love, faith and strength.” People came up to my parents constantly, introducing themselves, thanking them for coming and making them feel welcome. A dear friend of mine said to my parents, “You give me hope for my parents. That maybe one day they will come with me to Affirmation.” Another friend came up to my parents with tears rolling down his cheeks and said, “I’m alive because of your daughter. Thank you for raising her the way you did.” There was a sweet lesbian girl there who lives close to where my parents live. She was attending Affirmation for the first time. She looked uncomfortable and a little distressed, which isn’t uncommon. I saw my mom go up to her and just start talking with her. She asked her about herself and how she was doing. It was such a proactive conversation for my mom to initiate. It was so wonderful to see.
They cried through a lot of the Sunday morning meeting. The talks, music and testimonies shared were really touching and deeply spiritual. They had to leave to travel home soon after this meeting ended. Before they left, I hugged them both and was crying so hard I could barely talk. I thanked them for coming and told them I didn’t know how to express how much it meant to me to have them there. How much it meant to Jordan. The healing and repair that happened in this moment is beyond description.
I want to share a couple text messages that they sent me.
Text from mom: “This has been the BEST weekend getting to spend time with you, Tom, and our angel awesome amazing Jordan. Dad has been so overwhelmed with everything and genuinely enjoyed everything and learned so much … really touched with the spirit.”
Text from dad: “We just got to the airport and sitting here for a few minutes thinking about the last 3 days. I’m overwhelmed with the new feelings I have. I am changed forever. I have new eyes and a new heart. I don’t know how to thank you for the new gift that you have given me, a gift of love and understanding that I don’t think was possible. I’m so very, very proud of you and Jordan, thank you honey, love you so much. Dad XXOO”
Knowing how rough it’s been for so long, this weekend was a miracle I honestly never thought would happen. It was over five years in the making. I’m still processing it all. I can’t fully believe it really happened.
Because of a brother who loved me enough to have a hard conversation with our parents. Because of parents who were willing to step way out of their comfort zone to show their great love for me and for their grandson. Because of an organization like Affirmation that is healing families and the Church, one heart at a time. Because of a Savior who is ever mindful of us and knows us better than we know ourselves, and asks us to trust in His timing.
Because of all of these things, miracles happen. Families are healed and made whole. I’m grateful. So immensely grateful.