2—How it all began: teenagers looking for religion.
5—I’d been religious my entire life. NOW I knew I had found my religion. Because of that day I can never walk away.
France, July ’95—I heard the car engines. I met Katy in high school and we became best friends. We used to spend a lot of time together, sometimes with common friends from school. I used to eat at her place at least once a week. We’d go out or just stay in. We had heated and exhilarating debates that never got personal. Katy and I often lounged on her sofa late at night with a cup of herbal tea to watch Friends, My So-Called Life or Seinfeld with subtitles—no dubbing at last!—as her folks had cable.
I miss those days but at the same time I am much happier now. I felt so inadequate; so out of place. I still do from time to time. Sometimes I consider our lives today—how very different we are, and how we are very much the same too. Today I am more confident, more comfortable in my own skin and with life in general. I never dreamed that was possible back in ’95.
I could not be myself back then. Not entirely. I was so deep in the closet… I didn’t want to ever come out. I didn’t want anyone to know I was gay. I was ashamed to recognise it myself. And the worst part was that I suspected everybody knew. I did all I could to hide who I was… from the entire world—from my close friends and family and from my self too. I just did not want to be gay.
More than anything, I wished those homosexual ‘feelings’ gone. They were more than just feelings, though. I knew that being a homosexual was part of who I was, of who I had been as far back as I could remember—even back when I did not know what it meant to have feelings for classmates at the age of 4. I had been that way long before I knew it was ‘wrong’, long before I knew about gay labels—the technical terms as awful to me as to the disgusting ones people used.
Praying was for me what doing drugs was for some other kids.
Of course, growing up is never easy and being a teenager might well be the hardest stage in life. Some people forget how difficult it was. But on top of it I felt the stigma of being ‘different’. And all the while my family situation wasn’t good. And to cap it off, I was sensitive. Thankfully, I had found ways to escape—TV, CDs, books that took me to another world, generally American, and friends too.
And I think praying was for me what doing drugs were for some other kids—When I felt it was all getting too much, I would get down on my knees and pray. It would ease my fears, take off the edge and bring me peace.
When I think about it, I was lucky that Katy and her family accepted my religious side. I loved being with them all and I enjoyed going to the summer home we were going to that day. We used to go there for birthday parties, for New Year’s Eve or to have barbecues, and drink, laugh and be loud until the wee hours. There were no neighbours; there was no TV; we had to get water from a well. We had a lot of fun.
There was a road next to the house. Sometimes cars disrupted the quietude of the place without bothering us. The road turned over a stone bridge under which a river ran effortlessly, and turned around again to go up the rolling hills—the main feature of the place.
That late Saturday afternoon, I remember standing outside the house, thinking about the night before. About the confusion. I had prayed in the morning too and asked the same question: “Was Mormonism the true religion and the path for me?” I pondered again. Or did I ask God?
Something in my heart… Some sort of ‘light’ started to infuse in my chest. It was warm. I felt wrapped with love and an angelic feeling pushed out of my heart and towards every part of me. I could not mistake that deep ‘out-of-this-world’ kind of love reaching down to my toes and fingertips. All darkness was gone. All confusion was dispelled. It was the Spirit. I recognised it. It was familiar but it was also like never before.
I could never, ever deny the powerful testimony I received.
I stayed with that amazing sensation and I looked to the rolling hills and I felt one with them. I belonged to the world and the world belonged to me. And for someone who’d always felt like an outsider, what a most unusual and wonderful feeling! Now I felt as if my feet weren’t touching the ground. I remember thinking that I could jump over the trees on the hills if I wanted to. I felt all-powerful; I felt so humble too; ‘something’ emanated from my rib cage and was radiating all around me; some sort of reassuring (and yet incredibly powerful) joy ran through my bloodstream; an unstoppable peace coming from inside engulfed me.
It’s hard to find the right words. No matter how many times I have shared this life-changing event. But this is why I am a Mormon—I could never, ever deny the powerful testimony I received that Saturday of July ’95.
Strangely, I don’t remember any of the details surrounding the event. I don’t know what we were doing, what we had done or were going to do that evening or the rest of the weekend. All I remember is that after a few minutes, as Rebecca was passing by, I went to her and said:
“Rebecca? I have found my religion…”