In Relief Society this week, on April 25, 2021, we discussed a talk from the April 2021 general conference. I try to approach conference weekends with the goal of experiencing the messages from the pulpit from multiple perspectives. What will the the typical member hear? What will an LGBTQ person hear? What will a person of color hear? What will someone from outside the United States hear? I know firsthand that different groups can hear the same words but get different meanings. Each of us will filter the messages through the lens of our own life experiences. Try to listen with someone else's ears.
I like to look for the positive things that give me hope. The talk we discussed in Relief Society was given by Elder José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy. It is titled "Remember Your Way Back Home".
I highlighted three passages from this talk. I found them meaningful for my life personally. I also found in them messages that parallel some of my reasons for being involved in the Emmaus LGBTQ Ministry. I'm not going to claim that the way I interpreted these passages matches what Elder Teixeira meant. Instead, I'll tell what these passages meant to me.
“Knowing who you are changes what you feel and what you do.
“Understanding who you truly are better prepares you to recognize and remember your way back to your heavenly home and yearn to be there.”
I think that the LGBTQ members of the church (and in the world in general) have an unfair advantage when it comes to understanding who they truly are. I don't mean to minimize the very real pain and trauma that way too many members of the community experience in their process of self discovery and introduction to society; that all can be painfully difficult. None of that is easy. I mean to say that the cisgender heteronormative individual may never have to stare down the question of their very identity the same way that a member of the LGBTQ community might do on a daily basis.
Part of my vision of Emmaus is to create an environment in which each LGBTQ member can fully explore and nurture their relationship with their Heavenly Parents, growing in faith and feeling Their love; doing so certain in the knowledge they are loved for exactly who they are. An Emmaus space should afford the opportunity for anyone to be affirmed in their identity, supported both by other members in the LGBTQ community and by their allies.
This is what members of the LGBTQ community do. They face the existential question "Who Am I?" in a way that the vast majority of people may never even consider. Once they have answered that question for themselves, they then face the question of "Do I Belong?" in this religious community. I want to create a space and an environment that allows them to answer that question in the affirmative. I want them to be able to feel enthusiastic about that answer and find joy in acting on it. I want them to be able to bring their whole selves into their faith journey.
“Do not underestimate the potential you have to influence others for good, both by the service of your actions and by the service of your example.”
I recently received a blessing that included the reassurance that my transition was not something that was just for me. It was a transition, a change, that would ripple far beyond myself, my family, my friends, and my community. It was a powerful moment during a blessing that was filled with powerful moments.
I have felt a calling from the minute I made the decision to transition and to live my life openly as a transgender woman. That calling was to live an exemplary life. That's a rather strong word. I certainly don't mean that my life is without flaw or failure - it certainly is not and I'm far from the best example I could be. It simply means that if I can find it within myself to stand in holy places after answering the two questions above - "Who Am I?" and "Do I Belong?" - then I have the opportunity to stand as an example to others who may still be struggling to answer those questions for themselves.
Standing as an example is part of my call to service, both for the transgender community in general and for the LDS transgender community in particular. It is this call to serve, both actively and passively, (as well as a timely invitation) that leads me to spend my time and talents on the Emmaus LGBTQ Ministry.
The entire Emmaus community is called in this service. We invite everyone to act, regionally and locally. There are so many LGBTQ/LDS members who are in need of a welcoming space, a friendly embrace, and a warm and loving environment where they can thrive in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
They Are Listening With Love
"[Heavenly Mother and Father are] fully aware of each one of us and ready to listen to our prayers. When we remember to pray, we find [Their] sustaining love, and the more we pray to our Parents in Heaven in Christ’s name, the more we bring the Savior into our life and the better we will recognize the path He has marked to our heavenly home."
Any time I hear a reference to God or Heavenly Father in a talk, I will mentally replace it with a reference to my Heavenly Parents. I took the liberty of doing that here.
This passage reminded me of what I believe to be the purpose of prayer. Our Heavenly Parents know us. They don't need us to tell Them anything or even to ask for anything. They know before we utter a word or think a thought whether we are grateful for our blessings. They are already aware of our pain and our joy.
We don't pray for Their sake. We pray for our own. We pray to focus our thoughts. We pray to actively participate in Their love for us. I think we often feel like we might not be loved; we might feel that we are unlovable. Over the decades, LGBTQ members have heard messages that can lead them to feel very unloved. Please don't let the words of men come between you and the love of your Heavenly Parents. Know that you are loved by Them exactly as you are. Your experience of that love may motivate you to become more Christlike in your life, but no matter how you experience it or how it changes you... You. Are. Loved.
Return and report. Report that you discovered and embraced who you are. Report that you engaged in service to help others do the same. Report that you took advantage of the opportunities to experience the abundant love of your Heavenly Parents.
Return and report.