Chapter One – A Sunbeam

We met in our Primary Sunbeam class—Danny, Peter, and I. At least that’s what our parents told us. Our Salt Lake Valley ward was full of children and had an active primary program. I was excited to finally join my older sisters in their Wednesday afternoon activities, but when I arrived at the church building, I became a little bit nervous. The women leaders divided us into age groups row by row in the chapel. My two older sisters joined the boys and girls in their assigned groups and pushed me to the front row where I was supposed to sit.

While all of the other rows had a mix of boys and girls sitting together, the row where I was assigned to go consisted of just boys. There were seventeen of us total—seventeen three-year-old boys and one primary teacher. After a prayer, some singing, and a short talk, Sister Jensen guided her troop of young boys to our classroom for an activity. She had us hold hands as we walked the long hallway to our destination. I was the last boy in the chain.

Sister Jensen was an accomplished artist, and she apparently hoped to transfer that talent to her small army of boys. Our classroom had a large, black tarp on the floor. The edges were lined with pieces of construction paper, and the center contained bowls of thick, brightly-colored paint.

“We are going to have fun today, boys,” Sister Jensen smiled. “We are going to be artists.”

I started jumping up and down with excitement, and one of the other boys laughed.

“I don’t want to get your mothers angry at me, so we need to protect your clothes from all of this paint,” our teacher said. “Before we all start painting, we all need to wear one of these.”

She held up a stack of neatly-folded shirts. I was given a large men’s dress shirt. The long sleeves dangled from my short arms, but Sister Jensen helped me roll up the sleeves until by small hands appeared out the end. The other boys were working to put on their large T-shirts with short sleeves, while a few of us struggled with the buttons on our used dress shirts.

“These are my dad’s shirts,” a boy named Peter said. “He was a football player.”

“Yes, he was,” Sister Jensen said. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes looked sad.

One of the boys, Danny, let the sleeves of long shirt hang beyond his arms. He started to swing hi shoulders and watched the sleeves swirl in the air. Sister Jensen was busy helping other boys get their painting shirts on, and before we knew it, Danny and I were whipping each other with our extra-long sleeves. Peter thought it looked like fun, but he was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt, so he tackled us. The three of us laughed as we wrestled and rolled on the floor.

Sister Jensen got to us a little too late to avert a disaster. The three wrestling buddies had made it to the center of their ring. Peter stood up, but suddenly, Danny knocked him over into the bowl of green paint. They rolled and knocked me into the bowls of thick red finger paint. Within seconds we were covered in splotches of red, yellow, blue, green, and orange.

Sister Jensen somehow managed to put an end to the adventure and avoid any more boys getting involved. She carefully inspected each of the three boys as she moved us just far enough from each other to avoid another duel.

“Well, boys,” Sister Jensen said in a voice that was halfway between laughing and crying. “I was going to have you paint pictures of what it means to be a Sunbeam, but these three boys beat us all to the paint.”

She held up Peter’s arms to inspect the new color pattern on his shirt.

“These colors almost make a rainbow,” she said.

“Rainbows,” she repeated softer. “What do rainbows mean?”

Danny giggled as he pressed his hand to my right cheek and left a blue hand print there.

“Okay, class,” our teacher said. “We are all Sunbeams, and do you know what happens when a sunbeam shines through a rainstorm?”

We were silent.

“When a sunbeam goes through a raindrop, or when it shines through a heavy rainstorm, we get a rainbow.”

We remained silent.

“Does anyone know what the bible tells us about rainbows?”

Nobody answered.

“Rainbows are a promise,” Sister Jensen explained. “They are a promise that even in the darkest and hardest of times, Heavenly Father wants us to know that everything is going to be all right.”

The boys looked at each other. Danny looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.

Sister Jensen closed her eyes and whispered once more, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Introduction

Sunday was one of those days that faithful Latter-day Saint families look forward to. Brother, sisters, aunts, and uncles gathered from across the state to hear one of their loved ones bear testimony of his faith prior to leaving all to serve as a missionary for two years.

I traveled the two hours with my brother and his young family to honor my nephew. I enjoyed spending time on the road with the family—especially as my youngest nephew showed unconditional love to his uncle. The three-year-old enthusiastically pointed out everything he saw from his car window and told me several times how happy he was to have me travel with them.

As we pulled into the church parking lot, my brother asked me to go ahead and save some seats for his family. They stayed behind to change a wet diaper and take care of other young-family situations. I found a half-empty row and sat next to a family I did not know. As the time the meeting to start drew closer, I became more anxious—my brother and his family still had not come in. The chapel slowly filled up with young families and couples taking the seats around me. Finally, a young couple sat in the seats I was hoping to save for my own family.

I sat alone as we sang the hymns and prayed. I watched the families around me as my nephew shared his stories about preparing to be a missionary. Couples held hands, rubbed each others’ shoulders, and cradled young children in their arms. I felt so alone, and I couldn’t help but wonder is this the cross I am called to bear for the rest of my life?

On the road trip back, I felt something tugging at my heart to share my stories. I am not sure if anything I will have to share will help others, but I have learned through past experiences that I need to follow these promptings. So, here I will start with my earliest memories of the loneliness many within the church feel when they have a secret they have tried to hide for most of their life.

I am changing names because I think over the span of my lifetime I believe many attitudes have changed. I don’t want to accuse people in the past who may have made mistakes of being horrible people. Hopefully, most will have learned and had a change of heart, and I don’t want to blame anyone for they way I or anyone else has turned out. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own happiness in life. These are my stories, and I hope to help others—as well as myself—find peace through sharing them.