During this time of year when our hearts soften and we focus on our thank-yous and grateful-fors I feel it's time to share one of mine: I am grateful for courage. Particularly the courage to be vulnerable and finally allow myself to be seen. I've made some effort to be more real and honest the last little while when I post on here but social media still remains the world's most viewed highlight reel. It's so easy to keep up an appearance and maintain a certain reputation based on what we allow people to see. I admit that I have done this for far too long my entire life. I'm tired of hiding and I am sick of pretending.
Speaking of courage, I haven't had a lot of it throughout my life. I've always been an introvert, soft spoken, scared to share my ideas, rarely spoke up, etc. But things are different now. I'm different. For so long I've been afraid of admitting and embracing a certain truth about a part of myself. And that fear has motivated some life altering decisions throughout my 33 years of life.
Kristin and I finalized our divorce back in July after more than ten incredible years.
Early last year I told her something that I had never told anybody. It was something that I had tried since my childhood to change, forget, suppress, and deny. It was something I had pleaded with God for years to take away and to help me overcome. And it was a secret I had ultimately planned on taking to my grave.
The truth is I am gay. And that truth has been a thorn in my side for far too long. Because of my upbringing in church that truth has caused more confusion, internal struggle, and feelings of hopelessness and despair than I will share in this post. Regrettably, I did not tell the woman I married this truth before our wedding day. And I take responsibility for my choices and the pain that she has now gone through because of that. It is something that no one should ever have to endure. I have spent many hours, and hundreds of dollars, with therapists helping me to process and come to terms with what my choices have done to her. The guilt and shame cycle associated with all of this is something I will be healing from for a long time.
The details surrounding my decision to keep this part of me from her and everyone else in my life are confusing and hard to explain.
I was raised in a very religious family by two incredible parents. Among many other great things, I was taught by example the power of prayer and the importance of having faith. I was raised to believe in the blessings of obedience and following God's laws. The scriptures say "If ye love me, keep my commandments." And that was exactly what I wanted to do.
When I realized I was different, I became afraid. I felt like a mistake and like there was this disease inside me that I needed to get rid of. So at a young age I planted a seed of faith and developed the hope that if I tried hard enough and was righteous enough God would answer my prayers and take the gay part of me away. I just knew it. From the time I was in grade school I devoted all of my energy and worked HARD to be the perfect kid, the obedient kid, and I tried to do everything the way I was supposed to. I had so much confidence that my exact obedience to the rules and commandments would be the solution to my problem. In my head it all seemed so simple. If I did everything I was supposed to then God would finally change me. How could He ever deny such a blessing from someone who was so faithful? That was the miracle I was hoping for.
And when I was 21 years old—after serving a two-year mission for my church—I thought my prayers had finally been answered. The miracle had occurred! My mission was an incredible experience in many ways. But the thing I was most grateful for was realizing that I lived with male companions and was totally fine in regards to my attractions to the same sex. I had heard of other gay members of the church going on missions and coming home early due to the anxiety of being gay and living with a man, or they'd fall in love with a companion and be too distracted, etc. None of that was ever an issue for me while I served those two years.
I loved my mission! I was a great missionary. And I was exactly obedient during my two years of service. I had the missionary handbook memorized. Whoever my companion was I made sure that we followed every rule to the T. And I had countless experiences where I know we were blessed because of my obedience. Miracles occurred on my mission and I loved being witness to them. Lives were changed, including my own. My mission really was the best two years of my life up to that point.
When I got home and realized I survived those two years without a thought of being gay I was so sure I was healed. And I was ecstatic. I was so convinced that I was healed of my gayness I vowed to never let myself consider it as a possibility. Immediately I went to college, met this amazing girl who had every attribute a religious family man should want in his wife, and we fell in love. We were married within six months and began our life together. And it really was beautiful.
Since childhood I believed happiness was only possible by following one eternal formula: Go to church + serve an honorable mission + marry a girl in the temple + have kids = total and complete happiness in this life and the next. That was the way to have it all as I understood it. And with the way I was living—at the time—I felt I was on track for a home run.
But early into our marriage there were challenges. I noticed my gay feelings (or "same-sex attraction" as the church calls it) were still there. I was so confused. I was angry. And I panicked. I reminded myself I just needed to have more faith. I needed to pray harder and be better. And then God would heal me ….. but for good this time. I must have not been sincere enough the first time, my efforts and attempts to be perfect as a teenager and as a missionary weren't good enough. But they would be now.
With even more effort I kept working at becoming someone I thought I should and could be. A more perfect husband. A more perfect church member. And a more perfect father. I continued to plead with the Lord to change my mind and get rid of my thoughts and feelings that I viewed as evil and wrong. I attempted to lose myself in my school work and priorities in the home and make sure I had no time for idleness or complacency. I starved myself of hobbies, creative experiences, and authentic personal growth. I devoted my energy to being a super masculine heterosexual MAN. That was exactly who I was supposed to be.
This gap in my identity continued to widen as I got older and was at the root of almost every argument in my marriage. And as the years went on the gap between who I was trying to be and who I really am became too much to handle. Early last year I was on the verge of a breakdown and couldn't take carrying this burden alone any longer. I had avoided it long enough. I had to tell her.
"I am gay," I said overcome with emotion one night after work.
It was the first time I had ever said the words out loud. With tears in her eyes she scooped me in her arms and held me in our bedroom as I wept like a baby. We cried together and held each other closer than we ever had. I can't describe the weight that was lifted after finally saying those words out loud. And how good it felt for her to just hold me, love me, and feel a part of the weight I had carried in keeping this secret in and all to myself for so many years. I will never forget that night. And it was only the beginning of the relief I would experience as I learned to accept this part of myself.
Neither of us had any intention of ending our marriage over this. The next several months were full of learning experiences for the both of us. I began seeing multiple therapists who helped me learn to better communicate and be more honest and vulnerable with those closest to me, particularly those I had hidden this part of me for so many years. It was hard. It was ugly at times. And I was far from perfect. But it was helpful. However, the more honest I became with myself and others while I processed these feelings the more pain it seemed to cause. The feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and depression I faced in navigating it all was the reason for many dark days. I became numb, disconnected, and felt more lost than I ever had. I did my best to hide it from work, family, and friends. I tried to keep it at bay for our kids but they were noticing the struggle, hearing the fights, and were beginning to act out at home.
As I sought for peace and comfort in my spiritual foundation at church I felt more lost, confused, and like there was no place for me in God's plan of happiness. I was angry and wanted to blame Him for doing this to me. I was doing the work. I was following all the rules. I was doing what I was told is right and good and true. I was doing everything I could to be who I was supposed to be. But yet I was miserable and so was the woman I loved…..largely because of me. And no amount of prayer, faith, righteous living, and obedience was changing any of it. I could not believe the reality I had created for us both.
It didn't get any easier. And nothing seemed to change. The man I felt I was supposed to be was not gonna make it. And I was terrified to admit that to myself and to her. As time went on I realized I was wasting it. And not just mine, but hers too. I wanted more out of my life. I wanted to grow more, learn more, feel more, be more, experience more, and love more. I can't officially speak for her but I am confident she did too. And in my marriage I was unable to do that. I realized I could only be a fraction of the husband she deserved and wanted. And I could only be a fraction of the father my kids deserved in my current situation. They deserve a dad who is confident in his own skin and unashamed of who he is, a dad who isn't afraid to love and accept all the parts of him. A dad who knows how to love and be loved fully and completely. And they deserve a dad who can teach them by example to love and accept who they are and to use their unique gifts to help others without fear.
Our ultimate decision to divorce was one of the hardest decisions ever made. However, I know it was the best decision too. The past few months have been full of ups and downs processing grief and loss and change. It hasn't been easy and every day presents a challenge in one way or another. Ending a more than ten year marriage with someone you love is excruciatingly painful. But through the process I have learned things I wish I had learned years ago. I have come to realize that I am not broken. I understand that I do not need to be fixed. I am not a mistake and God made and loves me just the way I am. I know His love for me is not conditional. I know I have a lot to be proud of and I have a lot to look forward to.
It is easy to look back and potentially regret some of the choices I have made. To wish I had the emotional maturity to know better and to realize all of this sooner. I am still working through feelings of anger, wanting to blame someone or something. But I have no regrets. This is my experience and I take full responsibility for my choices. I'm so thankful my journey has allowed me to become a father. I can't imagine my life without Nash, Granger, and Tenley. I am beyond proud of the family I helped create.
As I said at the beginning: I am grateful for courage. The courage to accept who I am and to no longer hide from the truth. If my kids only learn one thing from this experience at their young ages I hope they learn to recognize courage. I want them to have the courage to be who they are and to never be afraid to embrace ALL parts of themselves because I will love, support, and accept them no matter what.
In the movie, Avengers End Game Thor's mom says to him, "Everyone fails at who they're supposed to be. A measure of a person, of a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they are." I did the best I could at being who I was convinced I was supposed to be. Now it's time to embrace all of me and live my life as I am. And I have a good feeling that it's going to be even better than I imagined.