Saturday: Part 1, Voices of Hope – Levi S.
I love Levi’s testimony. It brought me great peace and spoke to my heart. The path to Heavenly Father is there, even if we don’t see it right away. He will show us the way.
**** **** ****
I think the thing that I want people to learn and feel from my story is that the Savior really does love all of us, and despite the challenges in our lives and the mistakes that we make, He is there for us; He is there to put his arms around us when we need Him to be there for us.
I was born in Boise Idaho and grew up in Meridian Idaho. I was born into a pretty big family. There is one girl, then six boys, and then another girl. I was the sixth boy in a row and so I grew up with a lot of brothers and it was a lot of fun.
Growing up though I did feel different from most of my brothers, and I definitely felt different from the people I went to school with, the people I had Sunday school with especially – I felt very different and very distant from them. I always felt like I wanted to be accepted by them and especially by the people I went to Church with. I felt like I could never understand why I didn’t feel accepted by them and why when we were in Sunday school I sat on one side of the classroom and they sat on the other side. I could never understand why I was treated so differently.
I think by the time I started middle school I really started to notice that although some of my friends had crushes on girls and girls that they liked, I had girls that I wanted to be friends with who I thought were great, but I didn’t really have a desire to date them. Even in middle school I would talk about, oh I have a crush on this girl, and I would talk about that, but I definitely didn’t feel it the same way they did.
I knew that something was different, but I honestly didn’t know or didn’t accept it at the time. As I went throughout middle school I started to have challenges with things like pornography at a pretty young age, around seventh grade. And even then I wasn’t sure that I had same-sex attraction; I just thought I had some sort of curiosity and I didn’t know why. I didn’t talk to anyone about it.
I kept going to Church and I always felt like I liked Church; I had a testimony, but I always felt so out of place. When I was around sixteen years old I started coming to terms that this was not some curiosity that I had; it wasn’t just something that was seemingly going to pass from my life. It was more than that and I decided that I needed help.
I decided to make an appointment with my bishop. I had never done that before. At sixteen years old I had been ordained a deacon, teacher, and a priest. I was never really honest with the bishop when he had asked me about my worthiness because I didn’t know anyone else who was struggling with the things that I was struggling with. I was so afraid that something bad would happen.
I finally gained the courage to go talk to my bishop and I was extremely nervous. I sat down with him and I said, “I have this problem with pornography and I have these feelings for other men. I don’t know where they come from and I don’t know why I’m having these problems, but I need help.” I don’t remember a lot of what he said to me, but I remember I didn’t feel good. Before too long he sent me out into the foyer and my mom was with me and he called her into the office. I sat out there feeling very uneasy and I didn’t know if I said something wrong, but I felt like I truly went in there to make amends and get some help. As my mom came out of his office she was crying.
We got in the car and we started driving home. I was so lost. I didn’t understand and I didn’t feel like I got any help from the bishop, and I didn’t understand why my mom was crying. So I asked her what was wrong and she told me the bishop had told her that I’d been looking at pornography and that I was gay and he also told her that I would never serve a mission, and that I would not be active in the Church.
I just thought that the bishop would be a little more helpful. I thought I would go in there and he would maybe give me a blessing or give me some counsel. I honestly hoped he would tell me that these feelings would go away or something like that. After that experience I…even though I had a testimony of the gospel, and I would say throughout my life I never lost that testimony, but I definitely felt there was no place for me in the Church.
My bishop said that I wouldn’t be active in the Church and that I wouldn’t serve a mission. Serving a mission was definitely something that I had been looking forward to, and I didn’t understand why I wouldn’t be able to serve a mission, but I believed him. I believed the bishop would say the things the Savior would say; that is what I had been taught.
At that point in my life at sixteen years old I kept attending Church because that is what was expected in my family, but I quit participating; I quit partaking of the sacrament. I didn’t feel worthy and I felt like if I wasn’t going to be active in the Church then I didn’t really understand what I was doing there anymore. It was actually very painful to go to Church because I loved the gospel and to be somewhere where you don’t feel like you belong…it’s just not a fun place to be once a week.
As I went through my high school years I tried to put on a face of – I’m happy – and people would ask me my plans after high school and if they included a mission. I would just say, “I don’t know.” As I turned eighteen and as I graduated high school I was at a really low point. I felt so confused and out of place and just so much like I didn’t belong. I honestly felt like I had two options at that point in my life. I was really upset and I felt like the two options I had based on what I knew was that I could either kill myself or I could live the lifestyle.
I didn’t see any other option; I couldn’t keep going to Church. It was painful. I wanted help, but I wasn’t getting it. I didn’t think there was help available because my bishop basically said there wasn’t for me. I had a friend who at that point actually told me he was gay, and I actually moved out with him and I started to meet lots of guys who were living the gay lifestyle. I started going to a lot of parties, drinking a lot, and started to act out with a lot of different people.
For the first time in my life I felt accepted by a group. They gave me a lot of attention and they were nice and kind to me, and they included me in different things. I had a good time being around them, and I had a lot of fun with them. We did a lot of fun things together and for the first time I felt like I was loved, and I felt like I was accepted. I felt like I had friends who cared about me and wanted to know how my life was. That felt really good. I didn’t have that growing up very much.
I think growing up in a large family, as fun as it was, it didn’t leave a lot of time for dad and I. So that was maybe something that was really difficult for me; just not being accepted as I went to Church by these people who I wanted to be accepting of me and they weren’t. I was actually made fun of by them a lot.
This went on for a couple of months, and in the beginning I was actually still living at home. At one point my mom was really frustrated with me, and understandably so. She said that I could either choose to live the gospel while I’m living under the roof of her house; that I would abide by the rules that were in place there, or I could find someplace else to live.
I already had all these friends so I just called one of them up and I said, “Hey, I need some place to live.” So I moved in. I signed an apartment contract and moved in and just lived there for a couple of months. I remember one Sunday, it was January 27th, 2008, I got a text from a friend from high school, and it said Gordon B. Hinckley has passed away this evening, and tomorrow everyone is going to wear their Sunday best to work or to school, whatever it is.
I’ll never forget that moment and how empty I felt; just this sudden emptiness completely consumed me. All of the happiness that I thought I was feeling was gone. The reason that had such a big effect on me is because growing up Gordon B. Hinckley was someone who I knew who believed in me. He always gave talks about the youth and how much he loved them and how much he cared. I felt like he was one person in my life, who wasn’t really in my life, who cared. It was very upsetting to me that I would be living the way that I was when this hero of mine passed away.
I tried to brush it off and not think about it. Throughout these months the thing I kept telling myself was that if I tell enough people that I don’t have a testimony that it will go away. When I tell my family I’m gay they won’t love me anymore and it will be so easy to continue living this lifestyle. As family members did find out they were very loving and that was confusing to me. I thought they would not be accepting. I thought that they would cut off communications with me because I had seen that with some of my other friends and I expected that as well.
As much as I told people that I never had a testimony – I did. I knew I was the person I was because of the gospel. So I went into work the next day and on the little coffee table in the entryway there was a newspaper and it had Gordon B. Hinckley on the front page waving his cane like he always did. I flipped the newspaper over. It was in my view from my desk where I was sitting at work and I didn’t want to see it. I really just wanted to block that out because it was extremely painful and I felt confused again. I went throughout that week with that in the back of my mind just trying not to think about it.
On Friday of that week I went back in the backroom to close up and that newspaper was again sitting on top of the recycling. I really stopped and I thought for a while. I picked up the article and I read it. It talked about some of the things he had accomplished in his life and it talked about how much he loved the youth of the Church. I felt that same feeling again that I felt when I got the text of his love…and just again, despair and emptiness that I was living this life outside of the Church when one of my heroes passed away.
So the next day was Saturday and I just wanted to shake these feelings off. We had a lot of friends come over and just drink a lot. I just wanted to shake these feelings of confusion and emptiness that I was having. I thought well…drinking, partying, having fun, and acting out sexually seemed to be making me happy so on Saturday I had some friends over, and I was just drinking a lot. Usually when I would drink I would have a lot of fun, act crazy, and it just felt good. This time it didn’t; it actually seemed to intensify the feelings of emptiness and sadness that I was feeling at that time.
I ended up going to my room pretty early that night and locking the door. I just laid on my bed and sobbed. I was so distraught and I didn’t’ understand why I wasn’t happy and why the things that usually make me happy weren’t. I was just so upset that when someone I cared about and loved so much, and who loved me despite having never met me or anything like that – I would be doing something that was so dishonorable as a member of the Church and as someone who had a testimony.
As I lay in my bed crying I decided to call one of my friends. She’d been a really good friend to me and she knew what I was going through. I had talked to her a couple of times before and told her how happy I was. I called her at three in the morning and she answered. She could obviously tell that I was upset and she said, “Levi, what is wrong?” I said, “I really just miss the spirit…I miss feeling that.” As I lay there I remembered how good it felt to feel the spirit and how much I was missing it.
She said, “Well, where do you feel the spirit?” I said, “At my house, I have definitely felt it there. I have pretty loving parents, good family, and a home where I can feel the spirit.” She paused for a second and she said, “Levi, what are you doing then? Why are you doing what you’re doing?” As I sat there and I thought about it I thought, “What am I doing? Why have I got to this point? Why am I here?”
So I grabbed some Church clothes because the next day would be Sunday, February 7th. I got in my car and I started driving home from Boise to Meridian. It was three in the morning and I was probably still under the influence of alcohol, but I made it. The whole way home I was just praying out loud. I probably hadn’t prayed in years except for when I was asked to pray for meals or something like that at home. I definitely had not had a personal prayer in years.
I just kept asking God to please let me feel the spirit. I just wanted to feel it again. He definitely denied me on that car ride home and I was upset, but as I pulled into the driveway of my house and started walking towards the door I started to have a good feeling. As I opened the front door to my house the spirit hit me like a flood. It is one of the sweetest experiences of my life and I knew at that very moment that what I was doing was right.
I went straight up to my younger sister’s room, my younger sister. I woke her up and I told her that I was home. She didn’t know exactly what was going on in my life; she knew I was having a really hard time, but she hugged me and I hugged her and she showed me that she was happy, and we cried. It was just a sweet experience. Anyone who knows me knows that I love my sister. It was just a sweet experience to share with her.
I didn’t wake my parents up that night. I knew they would find me in the morning and I told Marnie I’d be gone before they probably even got up because I was going to go to my singles branch. So I got up that morning and got ready for Church and went to Church for the first time in a long time. It felt good to be there.
I still didn’t know where I fit in the Church or how it was going to work out for me, but I knew I was in the right place because I had never lost my testimony. I still knew the Church was true and led by a prophet. So I went to Church and I knew that I needed to talk with my branch with president. At the end of Church that day I sat outside his office; I didn’t make an appointment, but I eventually got in and sat there with him.
I told him I wasn’t ready to talk with him about what was going in my life, but I knew I was supposed to be here and that I wanted to start working on things. I wanted to start reconciling the feelings that I had of same-gender attraction. I wanted to start the repentance process. These were all things that were new to me. I didn’t really know all that entailed…I just knew that I felt good again.
So as Church ended I drove home and as I pulled into the driveway I got a phone call from one of my friends. She told me that she’d been thinking about me that day and then she told me that…and she knew also that I was having a hard time; she didn’t know what, but she called me and told me she was just thinking about me, and that she had fasted for me that day. As I talked to my sister again later that day I found out that there were a lot of people fasting for me. None of them really knew what was going on in my life, but they knew I wasn’t in a good place; I wasn’t in a good position. They decided as a group of friends to fast for me.
I just felt so loved at that moment – by God, by my Savior, my friends and my family. To think that…probably just a few hours into their fast Heavenly Father was answering their prayers. I was home by four that morning just because I missed the spirit. I don’t even know why I cared.
That Sunday night after having so many experiences, the Lord didn’t stop there. I think He really wanted to make an impression on me that day – that He was watching out for me and that His hand was in my life even though I tried to deny Him. I definitely learned that He never turns away from us even if our back is to Him. He is still there.
So after I left Church that day and had that experience talking to my friend I felt that I needed to get my things out of the apartment in Boise. I had a lot of things there. So I drove down to Boise and my cell phone had been going off all day, almost immediately after I left the apartment at three in the morning. Phone calls from people who were lying across the floor in my apartment.
I called two of my really good guy friends from high school; I had some really good buddies in high school. They knew what was going on as well, but I think they just didn’t know how to help me. I called them and I told them I needed to get my stuff out of my apartment in Boise because when I arrived and saw these cars of people who were still there I knew that I just couldn’t do it by myself. So within a half hour my friends were down there with me. We sat in my friend’s jeep and kind of made a game plan and said a prayer together. I was really nervous, but we went in and the game plan was I was going to go talk to my friend who I had moved out with and they were going to go in my room and carry my things out while I talked with him.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life to walk through a door because I was afraid of what was on the other side. I really compared, and think of the experience I had there of getting my things, to Daniel in the lion’s den. When I walked in nobody said a word to me or spoke to me. Nobody really moved and I had been getting calls from them all day that I hadn’t been answering. I took my friend in to his room and let him know that this was what I needed to do; that I wasn’t happy anymore, and that I knew I had to make changes in my life.
So that was a really sweet experience to feel that brotherhood with my friends again and to feel that the Lord was really blessing me as I did that. So later that night as I got home and went to bed that night I laid down on the floor because my bed was still in Boise, we couldn’t move that. But I laid down on the floor and I just started praying. It felt real good to pray after not praying for so long. I just started singing to myself as I was falling asleep – I started singing, I Feel my Savior’s Love. I’ve never felt it so strong in my life as I did at that moment. I felt His arms wrapped around me which is what I really wanted to feel from anyone up to that point, and to feel it from the Savior was really powerful – a very sacred experience.
From that point on I knew that I still had these feelings. They weren’t gone just because I had sacred experiences. I was able to meet someone who actually struggled with same-sex attraction. I didn’t know there was anyone else in the Church who struggled with same-sex attraction. This man had a wife, a family, and a very happy life. When I met him I felt like that was when I made the decision to go with it – to repent and figure out how to reconcile these feelings that I had because I knew that he had done it.
He helped me to get good counseling and really helped me on my journey. He was always there for me if I needed him. I could call him or go to his house if I needed to. The more I got to know him and see the relationship he had with his family and his wife, I just knew I could do it. Finally I knew it was possible, and it is what I always wanted to see and know.
So I kept meeting with my branch president and I finally told him what was going on a few months after meeting with him. It was really scary for me to tell him all the things that I’d been doing. Actually, I didn’t even tell him, I wrote it out because I didn’t even feel like I could say it. I wrote pages of everything that I’d done. I wanted to have a clean slate when I left his office that day. It was a really unique experience leaving the bishop or branch president’s office feeling good; feeling like a weight was lifted; feeling like I was on the right path even though I didn’t really know what to expect or what was going to happen to me in the next couple years of my life. I felt like I could do it.
Eventually it started to get hard again; just living in Boise around the same people who I had had struggles with. I ended up moving to Wyoming with one of my brothers who lives there and I got a job in the oil fields out there and began working. My branch president had commented around my birthday when I got a new set of scriptures – he said, “Those look like missionary scriptures.” And…I didn’t know that would be possible for me. So to hear him say those words…it made me do this (cry).
So I started preparing to go on a mission. There were a lot of things that had to be worked out and it was not an easy process. I did a lot of counseling and I went on a healing weekend in Pennsylvania, but I knew that I wanted to serve a mission because I had felt the love of the Lord and I wanted to share that with other people, and I wanted them to know what I knew.
I really felt like I was starting to change. I felt like the atonement was beginning to work in my life. I am not the same person that I was five years ago. The atonement has changed me. I kept preparing for a mission and eventually I started working on mission papers. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I was in Wyoming when I got my mission call. It came to Boise and I drove home that night to go open it with my family. I was called to serve in the Wisconsin, Milwaukee mission.
I had a permanent smile on my face for that day and for many days after. I felt like I had arrived at that place I wanted to be. On August 1, 2009 I was endowed in the Boise Idaho temple. I left on a mission just a few weeks later, and on my mission I was blessed to feel a reprieve from those same-sex attraction feelings.
I met some of my best friends on my mission. To this day one of them is still my best friend. I have since shared with him about my same-sex attraction and that has been a great experience for me to feel so accepted. But as I returned home from my mission it got really hard again. I’ve been home for two years now, and it is not easy. I think some of my most difficult times throughout this whole experience have come to me after my mission which is not something I expected. I expected to come home and feel like the world is great and my life is great. That hasn’t always been the case since I’ve come home.
I’ve dealt with bishops again who weren’t as helpful, but I’ve also dealt with bishops who are extremely helpful. My bishop right now at BYU Idaho has been one of the greatest blessings to me. I remember the first time I met him I wasn’t actually in his ward. The spirit told me that I needed to be in his ward, and so I got a contract for the apartments that he was the bishop over.
The first Sunday I went to Church he spoke and he said, “When you walk through the door of my office and you sit down in the chair next to me, you will feel that you’ve walked into the Savior’s office, and I will treat you the way that the Savior will treat you.” That was an incredible thing to hear because even though I’d had good experiences with bishops I had never really felt that way – that my bishop, he loved me the way the Savior does. But as I shared some things that were going on in my life with my bishop I had expected to hand in my temple recommend because I’d done that before.
He just expressed how much he loved and cared about me; how much he didn’t understand about same-sex attraction, but that he would try to learn as much as he could because he wanted to help me. When I asked if he wanted my temple recommend he said, “The temple is something that really helps you isn’t it?” I said yes. He said, “Well I think you should be going twice as much then.” That was a shock to me. I never thought that a bishop would say that to me. Then he asked me to text him every night and tell him how my day was, whether it was crappy or good.
He has continued to be someone who I can always talk to and ask for a blessing if I need one. I am so thankful to have the experience that I’ve had with him. It is a very stark contrast to my first experience talking with a bishop. I know that there are many loving bishops out there who care about what their ward members are going through and truly want to help the way that the Savior would, and love the way that the Savior would. So I’m very thankful for that.
Like I said, it has not been easy since my mission, but I know that I’m on a good path and I know that I’m making progress to where I eventually want to be. I know that at some point in my life I’m going to meet a special woman who will love me for me despite my struggles, and I know that it only takes one girl, and I know that can happen for me and I’m grateful for that.
It has also been wonderful to open up to people and share my story with them because one of the biggest lies that I tell myself all the time is that if people really knew my struggles they wouldn’t like me and they wouldn’t be my friend. I have definitely found out that is a lie and it’s not true. I have shared my story with roommates, with friends, and with my family. I have definitely come to know that people still love me, they still care about me, and so that is one of the biggest things that I’ve learned.
The atonement really does change people from what they don’t want to be to what they do want to be. I am still on that path of what I want to be. He loves us and He is only going to put people in our life that will help us if that is truly what we want. He has definitely done that for me. He has put people in my life who want the best for me and want to help me.
I believe that the Lord has given me a new heart, and changed it from what it was to what it is now. Even if my life doesn’t play out the way I want it to or think it is going to, I know that the atonement is there for me to change me, and to continue helping me on this path that will ultimately lead me back to Him.