And the Truth Shall Set You Free

By Craig Florence

Be sure to also listen to Craig share his story. Watch video here.
Craig is 57 years old, was born in Utah and was raised a member of the church in California. He graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in accounting. He is a CPA with a small firm in Nevada and enjoys the benefits of his career choice. Once tax season ends each year, he spends the rest of that year traveling the world with the vacation he has earned. He also enjoys spending time with family and friends and taking an occasional road trip. He is grateful to have come to a knowledge and appreciation of his challenge in this life. In the past few years he is glad to be back active in church serving in the callings extended to him and joyful in the service he can render by attending the temple. He is forever grateful for the Atonement with its healing power and in the ability that the Atonement has to change his nature. He is thankful to know that God loves him and that he is important to Him. He is also glad to know that he is not broken and has value in this life. He hopes that he can reach out and help others realize the power of the Atonement and the love God has for each of us.

I am glad, at this point in my life, that I have found true joy, peace and happiness. I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that being active in the gospel and temple-worthy would ever be a reality for me. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. I look forward to finding my eternal mate, going to the temple to be sealed for time and all eternity, and having my very own children and family. There is no greater joy and blessing I can think of. I know the Lord will bless me with these desires and happiness. However, my life has not always been full of joy, nor peace nor pure happiness. I have had quite a journey with my same-sex attraction. I can remember back to when I was in my early teen years and how I struggled with my sexuality.

Early Years



If being a teenager is not hard enough, add a huge dose of same-gender attraction, awkwardness, lack of sports motivation and loneliness and you have my teenage years, and many difficult years that followed. I was not having the fun others around me were having or as I perceived they were having, but I knew nothing different. The difference, I felt, was me. I was not really interested in girls. I really thought I was a freak and the only one on the planet who felt like the oddest person—the only one attracted to boys. I did not have the friends my siblings had, and did not have the coordination for sports others had. I did not look like I wanted to look—just a tall, gangly, skinny kid.

At age 16 I got a part-time job so I could have a car. This was the start for me to gain my independence. I liked cars and knew I had a passion for them. It felt good to have a passion for something, and I really thought a car would help my self-image. In my senior year of high school the part-time job turned into a full-time job, which meant very little time at home. Working became an escape from home life, being around my family and feeling so lonely. My employer was thrilled with my work ethic and wanted me to stay and make a career in the grocery business, but my sites were set on college and getting out on my own and making more money to have a much better life. This is one thing my Dad really instilled in me—to have a successful career so that I would make good money to go do the things I would like. I wanted to eventually have my own place to escape living under the watch of my parents and anyone and everyone else. I wanted to be somewhat invisible.

College granted me a different perspective on friends and relationships. My college career began at Brigham Young University in Utah. I lived in Deseret Towers dormitory for my freshman year. This was a challenge. At this point I had already had a sexual encounter with a guy and a visit to my bishop. However, because of my same-gender attraction, I was always guarded about letting anyone into my life. Living in a men’s dormitory was a little scary for me and yet it held some excitement. I could never be “discovered” by anyone for fear of being cast aside, and even bigger than that was the possibility and fear of getting kicked out of BYU. I really wanted to be “normal” and not be weighed down with my feelings of same-sex attraction (SSA). College helped me to be surrounded by what I perceived were good LDS young adults. I really did enjoy my time at BYU and the environment helped me gain a desire to serve a mission. I was really glad to have this desire. I did not really know what my mission would be like or know much about what would be required of me, but I was hopeful that it would give me some light and knowledge about my sexual attractions and feelings. I also hoped it would give me some direction for my upcoming years in life.

Mission Experience and Gospel Conversion



I had been called to a Spanish speaking state-side mission. The Language Training Center was a great experience for 8 weeks. I really tried to stay focused on learning the language and putting aside my same-gender attractions. When I left the Language Training Center and got settled into my first mission area, the reality of a mission hit hard. My first companion and the mission field were not what I thought they would be. Thoughts of coming home were front and center in my mind. With the help of mission leaders and the leaders from my home ward, the decision to stay was agreed upon with the provision of getting a new companion. Thank goodness for small miracles. I was glad to stay and continue to serve in the mission field.

Over time I eventually got a boost to my self-confidence and started to gain a testimony. I had some great help from two sister missionaries in my mission who helped boost my self-esteem. I am so grateful for those the Lord places in my path. I did not realize it then, but only through full activity in the gospel have I discovered the Lord’s hand in my life. In reflecting back, I now know I was converted to the gospel on my mission. I know what my conversion and testimony means to me now, but I had no clue when it was going on. I know the Lord was blessing me throughout my life, knowing that someday these small miracles would have a profound impact on me later. My missionary time went very quickly.

When it was time to board the plane and come home, the reality of what was facing me was very real. The airplane ride from my mission back to my home filled me with anxiety and fear. Deep inside I knew what I was going to be faced with and what challenges, trials and experiences would lay in my path. My fear was that my feelings of attractions towards guys were not diminishing, they were deepening. The fact that I was leaving a controlled environment and entering the “unknown” was very frightening. The reality of where I could end up was quite chilling. I had no idea of what to cling to, how to hang on or how to deal with all of the feelings of same-sex attraction. I felt like a lamb going to the slaughter. I started to fear for the future. I really did not want to ever leave the church. I was raised in the church, I loved it and I knew nothing else but to be a Mormon. The fact that nobody really knew what was going on with me made it even more isolating. I had zero knowledge on how to deal with this overwhelming feeling of being sexually attracted to men.

Post-Mission Struggles



I was home for a few short weeks from my mission and I got myself enrolled into the mid-fall semester at BYU. I was really trying to stay busy with school and to immerse myself in college, culture and activities. However, the hormones were raging and combined with my low self-esteem and lack of confidence, my same-gender attraction was rearing its very, very ugly head. It was a slow but steady process to where my church attendance slowed down and my urges and desires for men were increasing. I found myself cruising Salt Lake City and Provo and I was crossing lines I should not have been crossing. The quest for men and the desired encounter with one, was becoming an overwhelming force in my life that seemed to be so consuming that it was taking over my soul. I knew there were places, such as gay bars or entrapments, but I dared never go for fear that I would be asked to leave BYU. However, in-between school and sleep I found enough trouble and experiences to keep me wanting more encounters.

Graduation from BYU was a welcome day. The pressures of school were behind me, and I looked forward to a job that paid actual money and afforded me the opportunities to go do something besides study. Full-time employment meant having my own apartment. Since I had accepted a job that was a distance from my parent’s home it gave me the freedom to get my own apartment. I’d had enough of living with roommates in college. I wanted to be on my own to do as I pleased, with no one to answer to. The fact that there was nobody keeping tabs on me made my life more out of control.

I thankfully never did get involved with alcohol or drugs, but in those years, right after college I had not yet been introduced to the bars and clubs and really did not know of their existence. What I knew was how to cruise. I was so desperately alone, I wanted someone to hold and someone to be with. I really had no friends. I did not associate or hang out with anyone on a regular basis. I did not dare get to know or hang out with co-workers. By now I had totally stopped going to church and wasn’t saying my prayers. The pressure from the members in the ward to date and be active was more than I wanted to even deal with. So, in all my spare time—I cruised. I was looking for someone to have a relationship with. I wanted someone I could live with, enjoy my life with and come home to daily. I wanted a boyfriend.

Conversion to a Gay Lifestyle



When some acquaintances I knew from Salt Lake City called and ask to come stay with me at my apartment in Southern California, I said “sure, come on down”. When they arrived it felt a little awkward amongst us because they were still not sure of my sexual orientation, nor was I sure of theirs. However, when asked by these friends to go to a gay dance club in West Hollywood, well—after a small coming-out dialogue, I was on board. When I walked through the door of this gay dance club I thought: “Wow! I have finally found a place I feel very comfortable in!” I was quite surprised at the number of people there. For so many years I thought I was the only one who felt this way towards the same sex. Little did I know of the thousands of gay men and women in the city of Los Angeles alone! I immediately fell into quite a comfortable state with the gay dance clubs. I knew I liked to dance because I did a lot of it at BYU, but here I thought I had “died and gone to heaven”. The music, the beat with the base, and the lights, it was really quite the scene. You could go dancing in short pants and T-shirts or whatever and take your shirts off and get all sweaty. It was just the best! It was like a drug that I could get lost in. I was instantly hooked on what became a weekly ritual. This part of the gay lifestyle became very familiar and comfortable to me, so I decided to remove my garments and embrace the gay lifestyle. This was when I finally surrendered and came out of the closet. At the age of 26, I was now making the decision that I was not going to marry a woman. I felt I never really had much attraction to females and I also was not going to put any girl through the craziness and chaos of my out-of-control feelings and thoughts—I just couldn’t do it. I could not be that selfish and ruin someone else’s life, especially someone I would love. It’s not that I had just jumped out of the closet and shouted from the mountain top “I’m gay!”, I just thought that surrendering to the gay lifestyle was my way to peace and happiness and a chance to be free from guilt. It seemed to be the only way to be “true to myself”—it seemed to be my truth.

Well, I felt and thought that my life had finally obtained some joy and peace. I thought I had found who I was and that I could get on with having a life. I found myself blissfully off into my first relationship. I enjoyed those first weeks, then months and then a year or so of being in a same-sex relationship. After the newness and honeymoon period were over the loneliness set in again. My boyfriend was not around like I had hoped or needed. The time I had hoped we would spend together, was spent apart. In time I found myself going to find the companionship I wanted, which in time revealed the cheating that was happening on both our parts. When you run into your boyfriend at the same cruising spot, something is not right! So, that relationship terminated, and the experience was very painful. But, as if nothing was learned, I was right back to the cruising and the dance clubs.

After a very brief and short break in a relationship, then came the next relationship and the next…what a crazy life my gay lifestyle was! Looking back now, it was nothing but one sexual encounter to the next. It was never really about love or friendship, because it was never built upon those values. It was always strictly built upon sex, because sex was how everything began. I was living the lifestyle when the AIDS virus made its appearance in the gay community. It was a very scary time, full of fear and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the Church was still a long distance in my rear view mirror. I had professionally been able to progress up the corporate ladder, which translated into more money. That translated finally into some travel. That travel translated into gay vacations. As I traveled on these all-gay vacations, I eventually saw the same repeating patterns of partying, drinking, drugging and hooking up. What I was constantly looking for, a committed relationship, was nowhere to be found.

“This is Not Working!”



After several years, I saw my diluted self as part of this lifestyle. I was not seeing any progress in my life. I was not getting any better, I was not happy, and I did not feel less lonely. The despair and loneliness continually was leading to more cruising and an occasional gay spa visit. Often I would work all day, and then cruise into the early morning hours, go home and get four or five hours of sleep, and start all over again the next day. It was an exhausting never-ending cycle. I saw myself going down darker and darker paths. Internally, I was hating all of this, and at the same time extremely addicted to it. The realization finally started to surface that in the gay lifestyle I was not going to find what I wanted or needed.

Finally, I started to make some changes in my life. The days of clubbing were over, and so was my tolerance for many of the behaviors the gay lifestyle promoted. As I was making these small steady changes to consider a withdrawal from the lifestyle, I happened to meet an LDS individual who was exploring the gay lifestyle. In looking back at the situation now, this was an interesting yet very profound intersection in my life, as I could now see the Lord putting several people and little intersections in my journey. These intersections would lead me to the paths and the steps to get me out of this hell I was in.

Spirit and Light



The intersection with this LDS individual brought me back to a LDS Sacrament meeting. I was not thrilled about going. I thought the building would collapse on me, or the building was certain to be struck by lightning. I knew my dark past and I was not feeling comfortable about being in a church building, or being amongst those who I perceived to be far more worthy than I. However, this Sacrament meeting turned into a very different experience. I really enjoyed the meeting and it was strange to feel the spirit again. It was like coming home. I was bathed in the spirit, that same spirit which testifies of truth, and love and light. The Spirit spoke to my soul: “I will not let you forget this experience you are having. I want you to desire this!” The large dose of the spirit at this Sacrament meeting was piercing. It eventually led to another Sacrament meeting and yet another. Ironically, as I started to yearn more for the companionship of the Spirit, this LDS individual yearned more for the gay life. So off he went down the path I had previously trodden which was a darkened path, and off I went a different direction towards an ever-increasing exposure to the light.

My attendance at Sacrament meetings really started to change me. By the time most of the Sacrament meetings I attended were over, I was in tears. The result of such emotions could have come from a prayer, a song, a talk or even a thought in my head, but the spirit was bound to move me every time I came, and it was extremely successful in doing so. Right after the closing prayer of each Sacrament meeting, I was usually bolting right out the chapel door because I did not want anyone to see my swollen, red, wet eyes. But week after week I longed for these feelings. These feelings gave me the most joy that I had felt in a very long time. It is interesting that after having these continued experiences I knew I would continue to have more, I just never know how or when they would manifest themselves. Deep down I was grateful I was having them. I was grateful to know the spirit still knew who I was and would actually talk to me. Over time I started to realize my Father in Heaven still loved me and always had; He so very much wanted me back in His gospel—learning and serving.

As I started to make changes in my life, I was still living with one foot in the gay world and the other in the church. I would go to Sacrament meeting, but then—with the addictions I still had—I would participate in things I knew I should not. I started to realize that Satan was not my friend, not that I ever thought he was my friend. The reality of who Satan is and what lies and half-truths he tells began to hit me square in the forehead. Satan knew I wanted a relationship, happiness, and joy. However, he knew me well enough to lead me carefully away, yet never producing what I actually desired. Why would Satan do that? My thought is that he wanted me to follow him and continue to be miserable, just as he is. Suddenly I was realizing that the Lord knows me and knows what is best for me. He desires me to have that which is most pleasing to Him and what would be best for me. I was feeling light in my life again. The waking up of my soul was amazing. I had never given much thought to what Satan was doing to me, but at that moment I became extremely angry at what a fool I had been and the amount of time I had wasted following these half-truths and falsehoods that Satan had me believing.

Truth



From that epiphany, I started to strive more for the spirit. Seeking the feelings of the spirit started to become easier and more frequent. I realized I had to pull one of my feet from one of the two worlds I stood in, draw my line and take my stand. I still was not sure if I could climb off this path of sexual addiction and same-sex attraction that had been my life for thirty plus years. However, my desires were changing and my view on my eternity was also changing. My frequency of spiritual experiences was ever increasing as the frequency of church attendance continued to increase and it lifted my soul like never before. Each coming day was still an unknown, and the path seemed to be somewhat scary, but I kept moving in a forward motion towards light and truth. Truth. What is truth? How does one find truth? In the Bible it teaches us: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). I desired to know and feel the truth.

The intersections that were happening in my life became quite frequent. I signed up for a trip to the Holy Land. From some of the traveling I had done, new places of travel were intriguing. This trip provided a list of new places. From the spiritual experiences I was having I thought going back to where the Savior had lived and walked might help me connect more with Him and the Atonement. It was a great time to be around many people who had strong testimonies and a love for the gospel. The trip truly enriched my life and the daily lessons taught by the educator of the trip bore witness to me of the power of the Savior’s love, and the power of His atonement. After that trip, out of the blue I had a desire to take a church history tour. Again the testimonies born and the sites visited were what I needed to strengthen my testimony and to help me to continue my journey to walk out of a world I no longer wanted to be in. My feelings were alive. The truth was filtering in amongst a sea of darkness that had been there for so many years.

The reality of really making a change in my life started to become more apparent. I saw the hand of the Lord constantly working in my life. I saw people who had been the negative influences in my life just magically being removed from my path. Influences of good and righteous people were starting to surround me. The fact that I worked with almost all LDS people was a very positive intersection. They all knew of my lifestyle. However, when they learned of my fervent desire to change, their support and love became overwhelming.

Change



The time had come to put myself to the test. I had to see if I could make this transition. I wanted to make it, but the reality of it being possible to leave the gay lifestyle was looming. I kept upping my dosage of church attendance, not just Sacrament meeting when I felt like it, but Sacrament meeting regularly. When I returned from my church history tour, I started to attend Sunday School. It still was a little uncomfortable going, but each week that feeling of discomfort was diminishing. As the year was coming to a close a co-worker, friend and fellow ward member asked me to stay and go to priesthood. I quickly declined. I was just not ready for that step. Though I felt of his love, I just had not mentally gotten there yet. However, my response to him was this: at the beginning of the year I would commit to attend the three-hour block. So, for the next few months I enjoyed the spirit as I was trying to transition out of the gay lifestyle.

So midnight of the old year passed and January had arrived. My commitment to attend the three hour block was here. So, that first Sunday in that January I stepped up to the plate and stayed for all three meetings. I was really nervous to be back at a priesthood meeting with all men. I did not want to stand and be introduced at all. I just wanted to sit there and not be noticed. I knew the drill and I just had to relax and enjoy being there. It really ended up being just fine. I knew a few of the brethren because of my job and other friends. Not only did I commit to going to church for the block, but I decided to start to pay a full tithe. I had not done this for years. I was amazed how easy it was to write the first tithing check and the next and so on.

As I continued to try to keep the commandments and lengthen my stride, I found the influence of my Father in Heaven and the Savior more in my life. My desires were changing, and the joy and peace I was feeling was so different than anything I had ever experienced in a long time. I continued to find myself gravitating towards the gospel.

As this year wore on, the thought of putting my garments back on was put into my mind. The thought of putting on the armor of God was becoming more appealing. In the fall of that year, I purchased some garments. Putting them back on seemed so easy and they felt very—well, for lack of a better word—comfortable. Once I put on my garments, I made the decision to step out of a world I had lived in for thirty plus years and commit to living the gospel. It was time to pass over and out of the gay lifestyle. Some of my final hurdles were a few negative influences that would not go away. The Lord saw to it that this would not be a problem for me any longer. He eventually moved those negative influences out of my life, and one He literally moved out of the country! It felt good to be back in church and striving to live the gospel and the commandments of the Lord. I was now experiencing true joy, peace and happiness. I thought I had experienced these feelings in the years past, however I have learned how mislead I was.

Having a re-exposure to the truth changed my life. The truth changed me on a daily basis. It was becoming less difficult to deal with my SSA. I don’t mean I just changed, but over time I could look back and see my nature changing. I knew if I could obey the law of chastity to the fullest I would be able to attend the temple. Thus, this became my focus and my goal. At this point, it still was only me, the Lord and the Savior with the Atonement battling my sexual addiction and SSA, as I had not involved a bishop or any other priesthood leader. I had to know that I could live the gospel and obey the commandments.

Repentance and the Enabling Power of the Atonement



So six months had now passed. Church was going great. I was given a tiny calling through the elder’s quorum to help keep me committed and attending church. That calling helped me keep toeing the line and was a constant reminder that I needed to be worthy. By now my continued church appearance has the bishop wondering who I am and what has been happening in my life. So, naturally I get the call that the bishop would like to visit with me. So the meeting is set and I show up on time to meet with the bishop.

We start talking about the little stuff and then out of the blue I just dump all of my past, as well as what I am in the process of currently working on, right onto his desk, not literally, but I let the bishop know what the past decades of my lifestyle have been. I explained what I was doing back at church and what my eternal goals were. I also explained where I was in the process and that I had to get to a point where I knew I could permanently get myself off of the path of my past. I did not want to be caught in the circular door to his office, so to speak. Though the bishop tried not to look stunned, (for I assume bishops have heard everything and a lot worse), he expressed to me in some disbelief this question: “you have been doing this on your own”? I responded yes, but then both he and I knew I was not alone. I had the help of my Father and my Savior. I could have never done this without their help. Even more amazing to me was this bishop’s compassion and love.

So, after this chat the bishop informed me that we would have to have a bishop’s council. I knew this was going to be part of the process. I had told the bishop of my desire to have a temple recommend and be temple worthy, and I knew it was time to begin my formal repentance process and to take full advantage of one of the greatest gifts, the Atonement. I cannot begin to describe the burden that I emotionally and physically felt lifted from me as I walked out of the bishop’s office after telling him about my last thirty plus years. You hear in church talks about the burdens that are lifted after these types of confessions. Well, I am here to testify to the principal that the truth will set you free! I had just dropped my cumbersome backpack of rocks at the feet of the Savior. I felt I was headed in the right direction, and the spirit was confirming the truth of this to me.

For the most part, over the next several weeks I had emotions going back and forth, mainly over what my fate was going to be with the priesthood disciplinary council. The worst thing for me would be being excommunicated. I had, in the past, avoided going to church for decades because I wanted to “lay low”. I was afraid of being discovered and then being excommunicated from the Church. I knew that excommunication meant that the Gift of the Holy Ghost would be taken from me, and I could not bear the thought of losing the Holy Ghost. But now, I had finally gotten to a point that if that was going to be the answer and decision of the disciplinary council, then so be it. From the changes I had experienced, and the true joy and peace I was feeling, it would be worth anything and everything to be a worthy member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So, I committed to myself, to God and the Savior that I would do what it would take to be fully in the church and have the gospel in my life.

The day of the disciplinary council came, and I was given some requirements that I must fulfill over the next year. I experienced the love of the men in this council, and they felt that because I had been repenting and trying to change my life and my behavior on my own, they did not want that pattern to change. They were very encouraging and pledged their support. During that year I could feel Satan wanting and trying to work on me, but the power of the Lord was strong and uplifting and enabled me to press forward and overcome any obstacles. The enabling power of the Atonement was with me.

Return to the House of the Lord



The day I went back into the temple, the House of The Lord, I realized what a remarkable blessing and testament the Atonement had become to me. There were lots of family and friends who showed up to go through this experience with me on a Saturday afternoon session. There is nothing like going into the celestial room and seeing your family and friends and knowing that these relationships have the potential to last an eternity. I felt blessed by how many showed up to the session. The session was practically filled with my family and friends that afternoon. The comments from family and friends were wonderful. Some said I was just glowing. Well, I felt like I was glowing. I had finally made it back, again, something I never thought would happen.

The Earthly and Eternal Blessings of Truth



As I reflect back on these past few years of my life, I truly have learned many things. One thing that has stuck with me is the truth shall set you free. I never gave it much thought until I went through this process. Knowing the truth enabled me to shed incorrect thoughts and ideas to make my reactivation possible. Another thought is how the Savior, through the Atonement, can truly change one’s nature. The more we strive to serve and become like our Father and the Savior, the more our nature changes. I found this to be true in my life. As I recently prepared for a Sacrament meeting talk, I reflected back on all the instances and intersections that the Lord has placed in my life. All of them were so instrumental and perfectly placed by the Lord in my rescue. He placed things and events in my path that I would never forget. I did not understand their significance at the time, but through reflection I have been shown why they were there and the role they played. I know Father in Heaven loves me and desperately wanted me back. I know He desperately wants all of his children to come back home, and He is constantly working on a way to regain all of his wayward children.

Everyday I am aware that I must put on the whole armor of God. I am continually blessed regularly to have spiritual experiences that remind me why I returned back to following the Savior. I never thought life would be this good, but it is better than I ever dreamed.

I am so grateful my nature has changed. Each turn on my path surprises me with more righteous desire and change. I just keep embracing all the good that comes my way. I finally feel I have some of the tools I need to deal with and combat my challenges in this life. I am amazed at all the additional tools I get along the way as I serve in my ward and the temple to become more like the Savior and my Father in Heaven.

I look forward to staying active in the gospel and the church and living my life in such a way as to reap the blessings my Father in Heaven and the Savior have in store for me. Every day is filled with new twists and turns that bring joy and challenges to my life. I continually pray for the strength to endure. I have learned: “Don’t look back, don’t give up”. To me, returning to the gospel has been the most fulfilling thing in my life to this point. I look forward to what the Lord has in store for me as I remain worthy. Through this process, and through the confirmation of the spirit, I have learned how the spirit reveals the truth of all things. The spirit has prompted me to listen to the truth, to embrace the truth, and has whispered to me: “and I will prove to you that these things are true”.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.





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Denny
2 Sep, 2014

A lovely redemption story! Thank you for sharing your your faith, patience, forgiveness and persistence with me / us. <3


Rick
2 Sep, 2014

I am a better person for having read your powerful story of decades of conflict and search for truth. Thanks for sharing your story, and sharing your painful journey. God bless you Brother Craig!


Jason
5 Sep, 2014

Thank you so much Craig. I appreciate your faith and courage to share all that you have experienced.


Nancy
11 Mar, 2015

Your possibilities are endless with the profound choices you have made! Thanks for the uplifting, inspiring message! You are awesome!



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