Jeff’s Essay: Doubt Not, Fear Not
Like Nephi, Joseph Smith, and many other prophets of old, I was born to goodly parents who taught me the importance of the Gospel, family relationships, and hard work. My family, including my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins owned and operated a farm in Arizona. Some of my greatest childhood memories involve going out on the farm with my dad and grandpa to pick watermelon in the summer time. Through their examples, I learned a great deal about responsibility and self-sufficiency
I have two siblings, an older brother and an older sister, seven years and four years older than I am. My parents, siblings, and I took many family vacations together all over the United States. Disneyland was by far my favorite vacation spot! As my siblings started to get older, they distanced themselves from me due to our age difference. I didn’t think anything of it at the time; they were older and they just did their own thing. I had lots of cousins and friends, so I never felt that I was alone. There was always someone to play with.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been my foundation for as long as I can remember. As a child, I eagerly shared my conviction of the Gospel every fast and testimony meeting; even if we were visiting another ward. I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of eight and I still remember how I felt that day and how I knew my Savior loved me. I remember feeling like, at that moment, I was perfect. I also volunteered to give the talks and prayers at my own baptism, but my mom said that I needed to let others help, so I gave the closing prayer. My testimony strengthened methen, and has continued to grow all throughout my life. I’m so grateful to have baptized my two oldest daughters, and look forward to the day I can baptize my son and youngest daughter into the LDS faith.
Having a strong foundation in the Gospel, and a family that loved and cared for me really helped me to be able to get through some of the teasing I endured from peers. This began in elementary school and unfortunately continued through junior high and even a bit in high school. I had friends all throughout my childhood, but the braces and glasses I wore in elementary school and the fact that I was slightly overweight set a precedent for bullying from some of my male peers. Simultaneous to the teasing, I began feeling self-conscious that I didn’t enjoy the sporting events that most of the other boys engaged in regularly. A combination of being teased and feeling different from my peers lead to feelings of insecurity and jealousy of other boys and their qualities.
My sense of inadequacy and feeling different became apparent to me in middle school, which is when I started envying other boys for their athletic prowess and participation in more traditional male activities. It was then I started to struggle with perfectionism, something I continue to struggle with. The need to be perfect intensified my feelings of isolation and loneliness. It was during this time that I accidently stumbled on pornographic images on the computer. I was curious, as the men in the pictures were “perfect.” For me, viewing male pornography started out as an innocent curiosity; even though I did not admit it to myself for many years, this is the point where I knew in the back of my mind that I was attracted to men.
Despite a growing addiction to pornography, and an inability to admit to myself or anyone else that I was experiencing sex attraction, high school was a bright time in my life. All four years of high school I attended early morning seminary and loved to learn the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I developed a love for the scriptures and studied them every day. Dating and being with my friends came easy; I went on many group dates and dated many of the young women in the area. I was a social butterfly and was happy to be hanging out with friends and having fun.
Notwithstanding the shame and confusion I felt as a teenager that stemmed from my same-sex attraction and pornography use, I did my best to set those things aside and worked toward perfection. I tried to not think about the attractions or let them distract me, but the addictive behaviors that continued were an outlet for those feelings. I always thought that aspect of my life was just an action, not a part of my identity. Believing my attractions to men and these feelings would go away, I never talked to anyone about them, and barely acknowledged them to myself. I knew those feelings were wrong and if I admitted them out loud, it would lead me down a path I did not want to take (or so I thought). I mistakenly believed that if I tried that much harder, my propensity toward homosexuality would go away.
When I opened my mission call to Russia, St. Petersburg, it was one of the happiest experiences in my life. I knew that I was called by God to go and serve His children in Russia. Shortly thereafter, I went through the temple and prepared to serve my Heavenly Father. My time in The Missionary Training Center (MTC) proved to be an overall amazing experience. I loved studying the Gospel in a full-time setting, and, it was the first time in my life that I truly felt like I fit in with my male peers. This was an answer to my prayers. When I got to Russia, that band-of-brothers feeling I experienced in the MTC just continued to grow. I had wonderful companions who were my friends and like the brothers I had always wanted.
Unfortunately, after serving in Russia for little over a year, I started to get really sick. I was sick for about four months, and after a week of hospitalization, my mission president thought it would be a good idea to send me home to Arizona on medical leave. The whole time that I was on leave, I expected to go back to Russia to finish my mission. I assumed that because my desires were righteous, God would send me back to Russia so I could continue to love and serve His children there. After a few months of being home and becoming much healthier, the mission department called and wanted to send me back to the mission field, but to a different part of Arizona. There was some Russian children (adopted by members of the Church) in the area and the family needed a Russian speaker to teach the kids. I was back to work in the mission field not realizing I was still sick. I started getting sick again soon after I arrived to my new assignment and after several months, my mission president decided to release me.
Although I served an honorable eighteen month mission, the fact that I wasn’t able to finish my time in the mission field weighed heavily on my mind. Rather than talk about these feelings of grief over my experience as an early-returned missionary, I put all of my focus on school and work, and tried to keep myself pre-occupied by spending time with my family and friends.
At this point, I still hadn’t discussed my same-sex attraction with anyone, and my addiction to pornography began manifesting itself in unwanted behaviors once again. I did my best to disassociate my identity with this behavior, and focus on dating women. I still believed that if I did all the things I knew I was supposed to do, these attractions and pornography addictions would fade away. I knew that finding a wife should be my first priority after completing a mission, so I dated a lot, seeking a woman who valued temple marriage as strongly as I did.
Within a year of returning home from my mission, I met my future wife at the Arizona Easter Pageant. At our first meeting I was instantly attracted to her personality, her smile, and her ability to light up a room. She also could sing beautifully. All of these qualities helped me to fall in love with her. It also didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous! The event that solidified our relationship was the week we spent together while I was recovering from surgery. We discovered appendicitis was the reason I was sick on my mission, but none of my doctors recognized that until my appendix was ready to burst. My new friend spent the week with me that I had off of work to recuperate. This allowed our relationship to blossom. I shared with her my struggles with addictive behaviors but nothing specific concerning the underlying attractions.
We dated, became engaged fairly quickly, and were married in the temple four months later. The first couple months of marriage were great, but there were some rough spots as we were learning how to be a couple. After four months of marriage, we decided to try and have our first child. We were both working and going to school when we found out we were expecting and all the plans that we had laid out changed.
All throughout my dating, engagement, and early marriage times, I truly believed that my attractions to men would go away on their own. This wasn’t the case. Soon after my wife and I married, I fell back into old routines with my pornography addiction. In many ways, life was on autopilot for us; we loved each other, but we were also playing our own roles. We had our first daughter and then seven months later learned that my wife was pregnant with our second daughter.
Still not understanding my same-gender attraction, I tried my best to love my wife and give her what she needed. After I had fallen back into my addictive behaviors, she eventually caught me and was devastated. She told me that she still loved me, but I needed to get some help. I worked with my Bishop, never telling him the specifics of what I was looking at, but worked it out with his help. I did great for a short time period, but eventually fell back into the routine. The next time my wife found out, she came with me to see the Bishop to work together rebuilding our relationship. This time we talked to the Bishop about the specifics of what I was looking at, but he brushed the fact that I was viewing homosexual pornography under the table.
Even though I discussed my addiction to male pornography with my Bishop and my wife, I never identified myself as same-gender attracted. I knew I couldn’t be “gay” because I believed in the Church and all of its teachings. In my mind at this time, , being an active member in the church and experiencing same-sex attraction just did not go together.
From that meeting with my wife and the Bishop, I have worked extremely hard on the addictive behaviors and have been blessed on that front to have been able to not fall back into those habits. When I got called to be the Sunday School President, I really thrived in the calling. Shortly thereafter, our ward split and I was called as executive secretary. I lived in a ward that many of my family members lived in (parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins). My uncle was the Bishop then and for me it was wonderful. It was awesome to serve with a great group of men that lifted me up each week. It was an amazing time in my life. By that time, my wife and I had just had a son. We had one more daughter after that. I had my eternal family I always wanted and felt very blessed.
Although our marriage appeared to be on the up-swing, my relationship with my spouse began to suffer greatly after the birth of our fourth child. My wife had a friend who had just left his wife to pursue a homosexual lifestyle. Due to her friend’s decision, my wife decided it was time to confront me about my choice of pornography in the past and asked me point-blank if I was gay. She said she had known about my same-sex attraction for a long time and that we needed to talk about it in the open. My wife said she loved me and that we could work through whatever issues I faced together if that’s what I wanted. She also said she would support me in whatever decision I would make. This was one of the scariest moments in my life since I had never wanted to utter those words or let those emotions out. To my utmost relief, my wife and I had a great discussion on what our future might hold. I told her that even though I had these attractions, I had never and would never act on them as I held my family and temple covenants as my greatest treasures and blessings. Since I loved her and my kids, I worked really hard to do everything I could to improve our relationship.
Since my wife and I were openly discussing my attractions, and I had long since discontinued my addictive behaviors, I felt like our marriage was much healthier than it had been in a long time. I was back on track in my life, and for a while, didn’t realize my wife didn’t feel the same way. Even though we had talked about divorce a couple of times in our marriage, I thought we were working really hard and doing better. A little over a year after we had the “talk,” about my attractions, my wife asked for a divorce. She told me that she had noticed a change in me and although she could see I was working hard to improve our marriage, she didn’t think that either of us would be really happy in this relationship.
My wife’s request for divorce was extremely painful; I did not understand completely how we had arrived at this point. She asked for a divorce in March of 2013, and by August, our divorce was finalized. We were married several weeks shy of eleven years.
During this extremely trying point in my life, I began to slowly acknowledge my experience with same-sex attraction to family members and trusted church leaders. The day my ex-wife asked for a divorce, I drove to my parents’ home and broke down talking to my mom. Beyond my ex-wife and one Bishop, my mom was the first person I confided in regarding my same-gender attraction. It was a relief to have another person to talk to about it. Around the time I talked to my mom, the first counselor in our Stake Presidency (the Priesthood leader who counseled with my wife and I during the early stages of our separation) suggested I find an LDS support group for same-gender attraction. That lead me to search the Internet where I found North Star International, which lead me to read Voices of Hope.
Discovering the Northstar and Voices of Hope websites was a significant turning point in my life. I realized that other people dealt with the same experiences that I did. It never occurred to me that there were other people out there conflicted with these feelings. I wasn’t alone or a “freak.” I was still processing my feelings, but it was a start. This started my journey of self-acceptance. While I continue to work towards accepting my attraction to men, and reconciling my Gospel feelings with my attraction to men, fostering a sense of self-acceptance helped me to decrease some of the shame that had been slowly building since elementary school. Although discovering I wasn’t alone in this journey provided significant relief, dealing with the emotional baggage of my divorce, as well as the stress of becoming a single father, led me to live in auto-pilot mode for the next few months.
Then a life-changing experience occurred on December 25, 2013. I did not know how to process my grief and the perception that I failed. These feelings were too much for me to handle on my own, and that day, I knew then that I wasn’t relying on my Savior enough. The realization that I was relying on myself rather than the Lord solidified my conviction that if I do not turn to my Savior to help me through my trials, I will inevitably fail. That Christmas day, I prayed in earnest, begging Christ to help me carry my burdens. It was the first time I had not prayed for Him to take them away. During that prayer, I felt my mind change and open. I felt that the same-gender attractions weren’t going to just disappear, but that I was okay with that. I know that my loving Heavenly Father knew me and was taking care of me. During my prayer and pleadings to God, one of my very favorite scriptures came to mind: “Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; perform with soberness the work which I have commanded you. Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:34-37).
That is exactly what I did; I committed to turning my life over to the Lord. I started to “doubt not and fear not.” I realized that I was depressed. I made appointments with my doctor and a counselor. I became more active in the North Star online community and started to meet other men who experience same-gender attraction. I was no longer afraid of the attraction and confronted it head on. I did not doubt the promptings of the Spirit. I attended a men’s healing retreat and learned that, for me, I needed to have healthy male relationships in my life. After learning this, I have been able to nurture these relationships and develop healthy connections with men.
On Christmas Day, 2013, I had a very personal spiritual experience that changed my outlook on my life and the direction I needed to pursue. The Lord works in ways I don’t understand, but I am grateful that He has blessed me so abundantly. Up until that point, the draw to the addictive behaviors and old routines was always in the back of my mind, even though I had not acted on them in some time. Now, for once, they were gone! The Lord has blessed me so I could move on with my life and be truly happy. Looking back, that day was one of the single most difficult days of my life, but one of the most spiritually cleansing days as well. I know my life changed that day and it has only gotten better from there. That is the day my journey of accepting and loving who I am started. I am grateful for the rebirth that I have felt and for the outpouring of the Spirit in my life.
Sometimes I look back over my life and can see the hand of the Lord in things I have done. I have come to the realization that His hand has always been there, although many times, I did not see it. One of the biggest things that I have learned in dealing with my attraction to men is having a close relationship with my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ. When I first talked to my Bishop about the divorce, he suggested that I go to the temple every week and cultivate such a relationship with my Heavenly Father.
I have always loved going to the temple but at the time was too blind to really see all the benefits. I followed the counsel of my leaders and started to attend the temple every week. I can honestly say that the temple saved my life. The sacred things that I have learned in the temple have helped keep me grounded in the Gospel. It has helped me realize that my relationship with my kids is eternal and there is nothing that will move me to break those covenants. For me, it is easier to make life’s choices when I am spiritually connected to my Heavenly Father through the temple. I know the temple is a place I can go and speak with Him directly and to learn of my place in the Plan of Salvation. I have never felt this good about myself and the direction in which I am headed.
Reading scriptures, praying, going to church, and serving in the temple really does bring me happiness in this life. It makes all the aches and pains of life feel lighter and easier to bear. It is these basic principles of the Gospel that give me the hope to continue on with whatever comes my way. I know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ does not simply serve to heal me of my sins, but of all of the trials of life that I might experience, if I will just turn to Him. I am not sure what my future will hold, but I will “Doubt Not, Fear Not,” knowing that the Lord has a plan for me.