Life is Beautiful

By Reed and Linda Peterson – A Parent’s Perspective

peterson.cropGood Afternoon, we are Reed and Linda Peterson.  Thirty nine years ago we were married in the Salt Lake Temple and are the parents of 4 wonderful children.  We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Reed has held many leadership positions including serving as Bishop twice. I also have had the opportunity to serve through the years as President of the Primary and Young Woman’s organizations as well as in the Relief Society. Currently we are assisting with the missionary prep class in our stake and I am the ward organist and Reed is the primary pianist in our ward. Needless to say we have been blessed to learn the gospel and serve the Lord throughout our lives.

We became aware of this group about 9 or 10 months ago and after attending a couple of meetings and becoming acquainted with so many amazing individuals who are involved in this group, we were extremely impressed and inspired by their courage and determination to make a difference in the LDS LGBT community.  During one of the first meetings we attended, the idea was put forth to establish a parents group to help parents of LGBT individuals have a place to come together for support and encouragement.   We saw that as an opportunity to become involved in helping to make our culture a better place for individuals who are making this journey.  So we volunteered to host a couple of meetings for the parent’s group.  We have been asked to share a few thoughts about our journey as parents of a gay son.

Thirty five years ago on June 17th, our second son, Nathan, was born to Linda and me.   I remember quite a bit about that day.  It was a sunny summer Tuesday morning around 7:00 A.M.  The time immediately following Nathan’s birth were anxious moments for us as fingers and toes were counted and other observations were made to ascertain whether there were any obvious abnormalities.  How grateful we were that no such abnormalities were found and that we were able to receive this perfectly formed newborn into our family.  Life was as beautiful for us back then as was the summer day on which Nathan was born.  Later that day, I saw another newborn in the hospital who had a cleft palate.  I became quite emotional thinking about how heartbreaking it must have been for the newborn’s parents to see their baby’s condition, and feelings of gratitude again swept over me that Nathan was born perfect in every way.  Several weeks later, on the first Sunday in July, I held Nathan in my arms and gave him a name and a blessing.  I don’t remember verbatim everything that I felt inspired to say during his blessing, but I know it included all of the typical hopes and dreams that LDS parents have for their children, i.e. health and strength throughout life, receiving the priesthood, serving a mission, being endowed, finding a companion and being married in the temple, having children, receiving a good education and being able to provide for his family.  In short, the blessing was like a prescription from his father for the same beautiful life that I was privileged to be experiencing.  Later in that Sacrament meeting, I had an intense feeling come over me that Heavenly Father loved Nathan greatly, but that Nathan would encounter some extremely difficult challenge in his life.  My first impression was that this might be a foreshadowing of some health problem he would face.  Would his life not be the wonderful and beautiful life I had just promised him in a father’s blessing?  But as the years went by, he grew and matured and no such medical issues arose.  All of the hopes and promises expressed in his baby blessing up to and including his serving a worthy mission came to pass like clockwork.  After his mission he immersed himself in his studies at ASU and didn’t date much, but we saw that only as a matter of maybe not enough balance in his life and not that he wouldn’t get back on track and see the eventual fulfillment of the remaining promises.  Because of his seemingly normal progression through life, I rarely thought about the foreshadowing that I had had on the Sunday he was blessed.  From all outward indications our family continued to enjoy a blessed and happy life.

Then, in January of 2007, Nathan came out to me and said that he was suffering from unwanted same sex attraction.  The thought that Nathan might be gay had never crossed my mind and so this came as quite a shock.  Although I don’t remember reacting negatively or trying to make him feel bad or guilty, I wish now that I had at least done something to give him more positive assurances of my love for him and his place in our family.  By nature I am not very expressive with my emotions, and so, as I remember it, we spent a lot of time discussing in kind of a clinical way what it meant and how Nathan was dealing with it – which at the time included a heavy investment of his own time and money in reparative therapy.  I wish now that I had shown and expressed more empathy for the pain he had experienced throughout his life.

As a younger mother I thought that I knew everything I needed to know in regards to the subject of LGBT issues.  It was something that certainly would not touch our family.  We were trying our best to do all that was asked of us.  Praying, Scripture study, Family Home Evening, fulfilling our callings etc.  Little did I know the path my life would take and that my eyes would be opened and my understanding would be expanded and enriched in ways that would bless my life and change me forever.  When Reed was serving as a bishop for the second time, Nathan came to me privately as a young teenager and confided in me that he thought he was gay.  We talked about it and I was sure that it was just a phase and that he was too young to know such a thing.  So I dismissed it and it was not discussed again until after he had returned from his mission and shared with his Dad that he was in reparative therapy to overcome his SSA. It broke my heart to realize that our precious son was in essence walking this journey alone – carrying such a heavy load and trying to do this all by himself.  Nathan has always had a special place in my heart.  In fact when my children were little I always referred to them as my little lambs.   I know that the Lord loves him just as he is.  In fact the meaning of the name Nathan is “Gift of God”.  He is certainly that gift.  I have watched as he has faced life with strength, courage and integrity.

For a brief period of time, it became difficult to see the beauty in life as we tried to reconcile what we were experiencing with what we had been taught about homosexuality.  Several versus from the Les Miserables song “I Dreamed a Dream” seemed to capture the emotion we felt when we realized that things would be different for Nathan and for our family than what we and he had been taught to expect if we would just “follow the plan” and what I had prayed for when I blessed him in that sacrament meeting nearly 27 years earlier.

 

I dreamed a dream in time gone by

When hope was high and life worth living

But there are dreams that cannot be

And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living

So different now from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream, I dreamed

 

However, although Linda and I at first both felt tremendous confusion, disappointment and a little bitter about how things were turning out, as we came to understand more about same sex attraction and as we became acquainted with so many amazing LGBT individuals and their advocates, our view of this experience has changed significantly.   We have come to understand the importance of loving more, judging less and to more fully appreciate the blessings and promises of the Atonement.  We have gained a greater appreciation for the richness and beauty of life in all its variations. And most importantly, we know that Nathan is still as perfect in body and soul now as he was when he entered this world on that sunny summer morning 35 years ago.

As some of you have probably picked up on, the theme of our talk is that life is beautiful.  In fact, one source of inspiration for our talk was the 1997 movie entitled “Life is Beautiful”.

In the movie, Guido Orefice is a Jewish man who desperately and creatively does everything in his power to shield his wife and son from the horrors of a Nazi Concentration camp.

In referring to this film, we are in no way attempting to equate the horrors of the Holocaust with the persecution and trials faced by the LGBT community.  However, we do find several themes in the movie instructive.  First, the film teaches the importance of attitude in how we react to our circumstances – especially those that cannot be easily changed.  Second, given the right attitude, our eyes can be opened to the positive and beautiful things that surround us and help us to recognize that this life is a wonderful and precious gift that can be cherished regardless of our circumstances.  We believe that the twists and turns in life that take us down a different path than we may have dreamed of years ago have just as much, if not more validity and worth than did our original dreams.   We see Guido as a role model who faithfully strives to fulfill his responsibility as a Father and Husband to protect his wife and family and keep them safe – which is one of the roles of the father set forth in the Proclamation on the Family.  We hope that by working with groups such as ALL and others like it, that we can create a safer space in our church and in society at large for LGBT individuals and their families and that in doing so, they may experience more of the beauties of life and fewer of its disappointments.

Several months ago we met with our Stake President to discuss how we might begin to provide a kinder and more welcoming atmosphere within the church for people who are on this journey and he asked us to provide a list of the top three things that we thought needed to be taught and emphasized.  We provided the following suggestions.  Please feel free to suggest them to your local church leaders.  I hope that any church leaders who are in attendance here today will take notes and incorporate these three suggestions into your ministering.

  1. Education – take the time to research accurate information about SSA and LGBT concerns utilizing professionally recognized sources. At a minimum, you should become familiar with the information on mormonsandgays.org, which is the church’s official website for LGBT issues.  As you investigate and research, and when you speak to these individuals, look and listen with an open mind and with the intent to truly understand, rather than trying to validate or share what you think you already know.
  1. Outreach – reach out regularly to members and families who are on this journey. Ask them how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to ease their pain.  You may not and probably won’t have any answers for them beyond the importance of maintaining faith in the Atonement, but you can show empathy, concern, and compassion for them.  Listen, listen, and then listen some more.

 

  1. Modeling – find opportunities to proactively and more frequently share accurate, sensitive and compassionate messages about homosexuality in your meetings and lessons. There are many instances where talks, lessons, and spontaneous discussions in the church contain inaccurate and insensitive comments about homosexuality.  As a former bishop myself, I realize that circumstances may prevent or discourage you from trying to correct these hurtful comments as they occur.  To a large extent, members who do this are simply reflecting back what they have heard from the top down in the church for all of their lives, but much of which is now inconsistent with the church’s current view.  But when they start to hear a kinder, a more loving, a more accurate and a more compassionate message directed towards these individuals from their church leaders, then hopefully there will be fewer instances where offensive language is used and our wards will begin to be a safer and more welcoming place for these precious souls.

 

One of the favorite scriptures of both Reed and I is Romans 8:35-39 in which Paul describes how great the Savior’s love for us is.  We hope that all LGBT individuals and their families can find the same peace and hope in these verses that we have found.

36 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

We are grateful for the lessons of this journey that our family is on and would not want to go back and be the people we were prior to learning that Nathan is gay.  We believe that doing so would be like Adam and Eve trying to return to the Garden and regain their innocence at the expense of the richness and beauty of life that followed the Fall.  And as with all other of life’s experiences resulting from the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ was provided to give us the assurance that none of Heavenly Father’s LGBT children will be separated from the love of God and Jesus Christ.  Reed and I hope that we are better disciples of the Savior and better human beings in general as a result of this journey and we are united in our love for Nathan and in our support for greater understanding and compassion in the church regarding LGBT issues. We believe that this life truly is a wonderful and beautiful experience.