She recounted the words of Francis Webster, a pioneer in the Martin Handcart Company. As I heard her quote his words, I heard my own testimony of the experiences I've had in the Church in regards to my homosexuality. I hear so many people complain about the lack of understanding in the Church. I hear and read criticism of Church leaders. I hear about all the failures and all the things that "should" be better. I've modified his word to match my experience. The original text, as well as a good treatise on the quote and Francis Webster's life can be found here.
“I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistakes in handling homosexuality? Yes. Mistakes in Church policy and Church discipline? Probably. Mistake to support prop 8? Maybe. But I was affected by those choices and my wife was also. We sufered beyond anything you can imagine and many died not only spiritually but literally as well. Many lost families, friends, faith. Some lost hope. But I will never complain about that. I will never leave my faith, because I came through my experiences with the absolute knowledge that God lives for I became acquainted with him my our extremities.Now, Wendy Ulrich points out that not all of the survivors of the Martin and Willie Handcart Companies developed this perspective. Many may have only come to view this bigger story years later. Others never did. In her words:
I have risen from bed when I was so weak and weary from depression and hopelessness, that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead to tomorrow and I have said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot endure this suffering. I have gone on to that day and when I reached it I found just enough strength to try for the next. I have looked many times to see who was keeping me alive and I saw and felt many people. I knew then that the Angels of God were there, both mortal and immortal.
Am I sorry that I chose to experience homosexual attractions within the context of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ? No. The price I have paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to experience homosexuality and the LDS Church in the time and culture where I did.”
Francis Webster did more that day than quiet a heated Sunday school class. He opened up a story. A story big enough to hold both leaders who make mistakes, and a God who can turn all things to our good. In fact he opened up story for all of us. A story that includes the possibility that we too may come to know God in our extremities. They find the hand of angels in our most difficult hours. They come to see the price we pay for mortality as a privilege, for it can open our blind eyes to see the face of God.
For instance, Webster’s story is one of many stories however, among the handcart pioneers. Some of those pioneers may not have felt the hand of angels or come to know God in a tangible way. Some of them may have simply finished the track, moved on with their lives. Some may have simply given up, some may have never made much sense out of what happened, and others may never have really questioned at all.
But for Francis Webster the bigger story was one of unseen angels, and acquaintance with God. For others the biggest story may be one of personal stamina, and extraordinary luck, for others the bigger story may be one of the power of friendship and human compassion. It may have taken 40 years for some to learn to see the hand of God in some redemptive way in that experience, or that clear vision may not come until the dawning of a much brighter day. But the stories we create of our experience, stories shaped by our past but invested with our creativity and hope. These are what in turn shape our future.
I hope all of us can seek for a bigger story in our own lives.