Wednesday, April 2

General Conference!

General Conference is this week. Along with being incredibly stressed from the business growing, having a massive a cappella concert in a week, and trying to figure out my life... I'm just excited about conference.

I'm excited... because I love getting the direction that Conference always provides. I love knowing what I should do. Sometimes I don't get the direction I want... but at least it gives me peace.

One cool thing: My stake was asked to provide impromptu choirs to sing in the free speech zone outside of conference before the Sunday morning session. We were asked to not practice. I'm bringing Grace. We practice all the time, but we didn't practice for this... so hopefully no one thinks we're a "hired choir" or something. We honestly don't have time to practice hymns... We're too busy preparing for our concert on the 10th.

I feel bad writing about our concert before General Conference. That's why this post is supposed to be about conference. But my mind is running a million miles a minute... so here's a link to a preview of one of Grace's songs on Facebook (you do not need to have Facebook to see it; it's a public video. Just click the link, scroll down to the video, and watch it)


It should be an awesome concert. April 10 at the Provo Covey Center for the Arts (425 west center) at 6 and 8. We're singing 11 songs, and Attention (an all-girls group) is performing with us and singing a few more. Attention sings Disney and Broadway music, and they're performing a killer version of Let it Go. Tickets are name-your-own-price in person or by phone using the promo code "Amazing Grace."

We've been having trouble selling tickets because people at BYU don't like to leave campus (or make phone calls or buy full-priced tickets online). It would be great if I could sell tickets at the BYU ticket office... that would actually be a really cool joint venture... but that's not happening anytime soon. So, at the request of my group members, I bought 400 tickets and I'm giving them to group members to sell in person. It's giving me stress... selling anything is rough for me. Convincing other people to sell tickets... yeah. That's even more stressful. Next time I think I'm going to hire someone to sell tickets so I don't have to stress about them.

My calling has been stressful as well. The stake asked each ward to schedule visits for the missionaries, and of the 5 organizations in the ward that I asked to schedule appointments for tonight (and who said they would), only 2 have any results. 1 is me; the other is the bishop.

*sigh*

Now I get to make people scramble. Another thing I don't relish doing.

I'm just grateful for life. Yeah, it's stressful. Yeah, I could be doing better. Yeah, most people think I'm doing too much and need to slow down, and I am looking forward to the time, in 10 days, when I can. But life is just good. It's good to be alive.

Tuesday, March 25

Lost.

I feel lost.

Except that lost doesn't really fit.

My life has purpose. I accomplish things. I find joy in serving others and making a difference. I have people who love me and make huge sacrifices for my wellbeing. I have most of the things anyone could ask for.

And yet...

I feel lost.

I don't know what my life will look like in 10 years. Or 5 years. Or 6 months. I don't have a plan for a career, or even a direction. I have a hundred different options that are each open... yet each feels mediocre. Should I be an author and finish the novels I've begun? Throw myself into my growing essential oil business (which could use all the help I can give)? Go back to college to be certified to teach elementary school? Focus on music and making Grace into something amazing? Find ways to share the gospel with the SSA community through North Star? Focus on my personal health and share my story of mental/spiritual healing and growth? Pursue my ideas for new consumer food products? Find an entry-level job in plant genetics? Get a PhD so I can teach at a university? Open a vegan, ultra-healthy restaurant or a variance on the typical health food/herb store? Just focus on what I'm currently doing?

It's not just that nothing feels right. They all seem like good things I could do to make a difference and use my talents... and they all seem wrong.

Where should I go? What should I do? I know that my personal mission in life is teaching the gospel, but where? How?

I could be on the right path already. But I have no long-term personal or professional goals. Get married. Raise a family. Be a good member of the Church and a lifelong missionary. Follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and make a difference as a tool in the hands of Jesus. But is that enough? I want to know what is coming. I want to be able to say, "I'll have done this in a decade..." and have a goal that has real power in pushing me to excel in life.

I guess this is a good question to take to General Conference. It's the same question I've asked for years now. Last time the answer was "focus on people" - so I've tried to focus on people and let God worry about the rest.

I hope that God has more instructions for me.

But... if He doesn't... then what? I willing to walk through life without seeing the path?

I hope so. 

The words of Lead, Kindly Light come to mind: "Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene. One step [is] enough for me."

Maybe God just wants me close to Him. On my own projects, with a timeline I can see, maybe I would drift too far away from the One who sees all things. 

Maybe I would stray from the path if I could see it clearly. Maybe I'd try to reach the destination before making the journey. Or maybe I'd be too afraid to try.

I hope He has answers for me. But if not, then I'll just keep moving forward. Gathering manna from the ground each day when it appears from the Heavens, not knowing where it comes from or what will happen next... but trusting that God will make it all work out in the end.


Sunday, March 23

Voices of Hope... and Wanting to Do More

This week is the one-year anniversary of the Voices of Hope project. 

http://www.ldsvoicesofhope.org

My video was published almost a year ago. My blog began almost 4 years ago.

...a million views later...

Today we had a dinner for people involved in the Voices of Hope project. And something inside me is pushing me to do more. I want to do more. I want to change the world. I want to reach out and somehow help people find happiness and peace and hope.

I have a bunch of thoughts. But the biggest is that I want to start a choir group that does firesides on living the gospel, made up completely of people with same-gender attraction.

...that's what I want to do.

Or something like that.

Edit:

It's not a feeling like I'm not doing enough. I feel like I'm doing all I can. I'm the ward mission leader in my ward. I run an a cappella group focused on sharing the gospel. Everything in my life revolves around trying to make a difference. So I'm doing enough.

It's just a deep awareness of the incredible pain that is throughout the world. Incredible pain from people who are searching for happiness and can't find it... people who don't know where to search for answers and who are losing hope...

And a question posed to the heavens: what's the best solution? 
Is it creating a crisis line (which was my passion about a year ago... but while it would touch some people and help them in crises, it doesn't feel like it would really cut at the core of the issue)? 
Overseeing a group of young bloggers who can show faith and hope (to offset the huge amount of anti-Mormon young voices that are easily found... and yet that doesn't feel right either)?
Putting together a choir/fireside group that focuses on sharing how the gospel has helped them overcome major struggles in life? This feels right. But I'm still not sure. I realize now that just focusing on same-sex attraction might not be the best outcome, since the goal is helping people be more open about issues they face in general. Would a fireside choir that showcased people who live with mental disorders and illnesses, addiction, same-gender attraction, cancer, and the other trials be effective in helping people see that the gospel really does apply to everyone? Maybe. And maybe it could begin to heal our culture.

I don't know. I hope so.

Saturday, March 8

The Only Thing that Matters

The last few weeks I've been stressed. Enough so that people are mentioning it, and being stressed is often a norm in my life. I have people at church and in life telling me they're concerned about me, asking me to reconsider the stresses I've allowed into my life.

Stress, for me, can be a catalyst for some pretty powerful things. In a moment of quiet a few days ago, I found myself doing what my friends had pled with me to do - backing up from my life and looking at each commitment... balancing and weighing each of the things I do in life.

I came away with mixed feelings. I don't currently have any medium-length goals. I have plenty of short-term (in the next few months) goals, and plenty of vague or specific long-term (before I die) hopes, but nothing that actually reaches out with the ability to plan or move towards it into the future beyond a few months.

The stuff I do also summons mixed feelings.

I'm an MBA graduate, yet I just barely started a college a cappella group. We do a great job sharing the gospel, and beginning in April, Grace will transition to a Christian a cappella group (exclusively Christian music)... but where am I going to go with that? What's the end? It seemed like the right direction to start, but which way should I push the group now? Try to enter competitions? Focus instead on recording? Focus instead on performing in many different places to share the gospel?

My opportunities to write for the Church are great; they're also sporadic. And I don't usually know when or what the next project piece will be. It requires a huge amount of flexibility in my schedule, since sometimes I need to rush a writing job... and stop doing most other things in my life. I'm not going to drop that, but, again, where is it going? It changes and touches people's lives... is that enough?

My blog here is part of an exploding blogosphere. When I began blogging four years ago, I had trouble finding anyone who updated their blog with frequency, and no one who had a perspective that made me want to read. Today there are hundreds of blogs on the subject... all across the spectrum of ideas and issues. I'm not going to stop writing. But where should it go?

My business is growing as well. We're at Expo West today and yesterday (it goes tomorrow as well, but we'll put a little sign that says "We will not be here today (Sunday)...") and we're trying a new method of getting into stores: Pushing.

This last year we had a sizable increase in taxable inventory... so we have the room to use it to increase business. So for every store that is willing to guarantee us 2 feet of premium shelf space, we'll fill it for free with 20 of our best products.

It's a huge investment in each store that signs up. But our hope, and we've found this is true in almost every store we've entered before, is that their customers learn to love the product, they make reorders, and we recoup the cost of the initial order.

My parents are starting to work for/with us. My business makes more money than theirs. I don't know how I feel about that.

And then there's just direction in life. Should I stay in Utah indefinitely? Plan for a PhD somewhere, sometime? Think about going somewhere else? What should my direction be with relationships? 

The only thing that matters to me is people - doing all I can to help people find happiness and return to God. Each of the things I'm doing, taken individually, looks like a good thing. But put them all together, and it feels like sometimes I'm running in a dozen different races... all at the same time.

So many questions... and so few answers. I'm doing great things in life; I just want to have a direction. Thankfully, General Conference is coming in a few weeks. I can take my questions there... and in the past I've always found something to help me figure it out.

Friday, February 28

You Must Live an Awesome, Interesting Life

I woke up at 2:00 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I felt like going to the gym and swimming, so I walked across the street and did sprints until my arms gave out, then sat in the steam room until I had trouble breathing. While I swam, there was a girl in the lane next to mine. When I got out of the pool, she did, too, and when I jumped back in after being in the steam room, she left. I got out of the gym and she was standing outside next to the bike rack. I didn't talk to her - I didn't want to come off as flirting at 3:00 in the morning. I wonder if I should have said something. Sometimes God tells me to do things so that I can be there for people who need someone. Most of the time it's not about me or my wants. *sigh* I'm not sure if I was supposed to talk with her or not.

Last night Grace was part of a benefit concert for the South Franklin Center in Provo. I was buying pieces of clothing for group members who couldn't find stuff that matched our dress code (yellow/orange/red with white/tan as accents), and as I checked out the cashier at DI asked me if I had found everything I was looking for.

"I did. I just hope they fit." (Indicating a pair of shoes).
"Well, if they don't, you can bring them back within seven days."
"Yeah. We have a performance tonight, though."
"Oh? For what?"
"I'm in an a cappella group called Grace. We're part of a benefit concert at 7:00 tonight at BYU." (Turn around to show my Grace jacket)
"Wow. You must live an awesome, interesting life. It's really cool that people do that kind of thing."

I wasn't expecting that reply.

I left DI feeling shaken and a bit humbled, but I didn't have a lot of time to reflect. I got to the benefit concert two hours early so that I could set up sound equipment. My donation to the cause: Providing all the sound equipment and doing the live mixing for the concert. It was my first time... but at least every group but Grace was pretty balanced. We didn't have someone to mix us. :/ But people said we sounded good anyway. It was perhaps the most stressful concert I have been to in my life. It was good.

But while I was swimming just now, I found myself thinking about what that cashier said at DI. "You must live an awesome, interesting life." Do I? Is my life really all that different from someone else's? And, if so, how? Why? What does that mean? Is it just that I'm at an interesting part of my life? That she thought it was interesting as a contrast to hers?

My biggest wonder is how that should affect how I live my life... and part of me doesn't want to believe it, but feels obligated to. Because if my life is awesome, and someone else's life isn't, then that brings two meanings: some people don't see the awesomeness in their lives, and it's partly my responsibility to help them find it.

Maybe that's what I was supposed to tell the girl with red hair standing by the bike rack. Maybe she needed to know that life could be interesting and amazing... and just needed to talk with someone.

Or maybe I was just supposed to write about it. I don't know.

Sunday, February 23

Tired

I fell asleep multiple times in Sacrament meeting today. The speakers were interesting, compelling, and people I care about - we got a new member of our bishopric and the stake president spoke - but that didn't change the fact that I was so exhausted I couldn't keep my eyes open. I had meetings in the morning, meetings at noon, meetings in the afternoon, a short break where I collapsed on the couch in my sans my suit jacket, and then a fireside and ward prayer to end the day. And now I feel compelled to blog.

There's probably something wrong with me. The people closest to me would say so. I push myself too hard. Yeah. Um.

I started writing a blog post on Friday but then it got longer, and longer, and much more complicated than I expected it to. It grew from some interesting thoughts I had on finding common ground in conversations and dialogue... into a treatise on how we create and adapt mental schemas that inform our beliefs and actions. If I can get it done, I think it'll be really cool. And also be informative on how to find common ground in any dialogue. Right now it's messy enough that even I won't publish it without editing.

And so I'm rambling without enough sleep instead.

Oh. There was another reason I was writing. Grace is performing at a benefit concert this Thursday at 7:00. It's in the Varsity Theater at the BYU Wilkinson Center. Proceeds benefit a nonprofit organization that holds an after-school program for disadvantaged youth (maybe called the Franklin center? I don't remember) and will include a bunch of a cappella groups and other performances. Tickets are $5 at the door. Grace performs every week, but this will be our first "real" performance on a stage with an audience. It should be good.

Sunday, February 16

The Awesome Part of Depression

Caveat: Depression is a pretty awful thing. Feeling like I'm worth less than muddy snow, wanting to die, and losing interest in most of the things in life are all pretty negative feelings. And depression can lead to some even more awful things, like suicide, relationship strife, professional repercussions, lack of self-esteem...

So I'm not saying that depression is awesome as an argument against the majority of people who think it's now.

I am saying that there are moments when I am hugely grateful for the singular, awe-inspiring perspective that sometimes comes alongside the worst days of my life.


I spend most of my life following a pattern. When I'm feeling really good about life and everything else, I start tons of projects, reach out to people, and jump completely into everything I can. I fill my plate to the top, and then some, of things that I want to accomplish and stepping stones on the way to the person I want to be.

At some point I go beyond my max. It takes a while to figure out what that exactly is, but my emotional stores run dry, things fall apart, and my stomach no longer wants to touch, let alone gorge, the pile of duties and tasks that I've assigned myself. But I'm a being of commitment, so I start moving forward, and when life settles back into the norm, I'm doing far more than I could have done otherwise.

I feel like it's worked well. It keeps me busy enough that I feel like I'm using my talents and developing others, and I can see results as I look behind me.

But sometimes, when I hit an emotional low, the thin veneer of life cracks and everything falls apart.

It's a horrible experience.

But among everything else that happens, one thing comes out - I lose my interest in almost everything.

The key is almost.

When I'm at my lowest, or perhaps more accurately, my rawest, emotional state, I realize that most things in life really don't matter. All the stuff on my resume doesn't matter. My education doesn't matter. The concerts I have coming up, the food I eat tomorrow, whether or not I go to the gym... all lose most of their intrinsic value. Fun disappears. Desire disappears. And, in its place, appears a blazing awareness of what really matters.

That's where I'm reminded that the purpose of life is to return to God. To be tested. And that, above all else, the greatest thing that I can do is help others return to God and find happiness. Nothing else matters.

During that moment in time, when nothing else matters, I look at my life and, still unwilling to do anything because of depression, re-think what I'm planning. There, without any desires for fun or other stuff that's going to get in the way, I plan out my life and what it's going to look like, focused only on doing what's important. I trim here and add there, redefine relationships and push and pull until it all feels right.

Then life turns back on, the emotions and pain return with a rush, I slowly gain the emotional ability to actually accomplish what I set out, and I move forward.

Maybe not really awesome to people who haven't felt it. And maybe the Lord could give me the experience without having to smash me into the ground. But at least it gives me something good to think about.

Friday, February 14

Two Worlds. Two Feelings. Both Are Real.

I hurt.

I'm not sure exactly why. Maybe it's because in Grace we had our first major power struggle among group members, and interpersonal conflict rips me apart. Maybe it's because my little brother was part of it, and I'm trying to use Grace as an opportunity to bring us together, not one to pull us apart. Maybe it's because I made a girl cry again today because I'm not in love with her, or because my friendships ring hollow because at the end of the day I don't feel loved, whatever I tell myself. Maybe it's because even sharing that... talking about my feelings... in relationships just causes conflict and more pain. Maybe it's because I feel like I should be better. Maybe it's because I already feel like a failure in my new calling. Maybe it's because I want to run away and have it all stop, but it never will. Maybe it's because I look at the success I see professionally and in so many other areas of my life... and yet in the most important one to me, I feel broken.

Maybe that's it.

I'm sitting at my computer crying because I'm heartbroken. Heartbroken because I feel like I'm less than nothing. My conscience won't let me finish that thought because I know that I'm not nothing. I'm a son of God, and He loves me, and He will always love me, and everything will work out...

But I'm still crying. I still hurt.

I'm still crying.

And now I'm thinking that all of you are going to think I'm an emotional wreck. You probably are. I'm probably not thinking straight. I don't know.

I think I'm crying simply because I'm overwhelmed. Managing so many people's emotional stress and expectations, without knowing what they are, without having the cognitive processing ability to interpret social signals and cues... mixed with fear of the unknowns in relationships and the future... mixed with having to put my own hopes and dreams aside...

I have so many mixed feelings. So many feelings that are real, even though they contradict each other. The thought that I could use concepts learned in my negotiations class to understand people's needs in Grace and find a way to meet all of them. The desire to just run away and never have to worry about conflict with Grace, or anyone, again. Wanting to improve my relationships with others. Wanting again to run away and hide in a corner where I don't have to feel, and hurt, anymore. Grateful that my life has given me so many things to learn and come closer to Jesus. And wishing that somehow the hard part of the test would end for real. And then grateful again that it doesn't, and makes me humbler and brings me closer to a God that really understands me.

There aren't any big things that happened to make me cry. Just a few on top of each other. Too much conflict in a day, and my emotional stores drained and cracked, leaving me currently exhausted.

I'm so grateful that I work in the temple tomorrow morning. Even if I don't figure my life out, at least I'll have peace.

And I'm grateful that each night, even when the day has left me crying, frustrated, emotionally drained, and feeling pathetic... there's a God who understands me and loves me and is able to tell me that I still matter to Him. That He gets me. That He loves me and appreciates me and wants the same things that I want. And unlike love from anyone else, I can feel His love.

Today I'm grateful for a God who loves me. Who loves me enough to give me weakness, then let me experience hard things, cry, humble myself, and turn to Him. Who loves me enough to make my life sometimes miserable so that He can heal me and I can know His power. Who loves me enough to tell make storm clouds gather and inspire faith so that I believe His voice whispering "All is well."

Dear God, thank you for loving me. For creating a perfect life for me. For standing beside me and, when I begin to forget, giving me a chance to feel pain... and the healing power of your love... again.

My Feelings on Dating, and Valentine's Day

I used to stress about being single.

It sort of happens in Utah Valley. A reason the Mormon Mecca of BYU exists is to bring youth together so they can date, fall in love, and get married. And as far as eternal salvation goes, marriage ranks way higher on the list than getting a degree. One is essential, the other is not.

So you hear about dating constantly in Provo and Orem and everywhere else. It happens in singles wards throughout the Church, but here in Utah it's intense. My last stake president spoke about dating every single time he took the stand. Every. Single. Time. And he made some pretty clear and forward remarks as well. "If you're a returned missionary and not dating twice a week, you're a sinner!"

I used to take those remarks personally. Every single thing the Brethren said about dating applied to me... because, well, they're the Brethren. Everything they say applies to everyone. Same thing with my priesthood leaders, from the stake president to the bishop to the high counselor in elders quorum who takes 15 minutes every lesson to talk about home teaching. It was all cogent.

And it was all awfully stressful.

I mean, at some point you start getting "older" in the Provo/Orem mentality. It happens around 24-25, and people start looking at you as part of the "old" crowd. And, in some cases, wondering why you're not married. For a guy who is trying to not tell the world about his issues (as I was), that was an awful experience. And having to let girls down without being able to tell them exactly why, "It's not you, it's me... really..." was an unpleasant experience at the very least.

But at one point it all changed.

I don't know when it happened, or even really how. Maybe I was in the temple, and God told me He would take care of me. Maybe it was part of a much bigger act of surrendering to God. Who knows.

But I stopped being stressed. I stopped worrying. I still cared, but I took all the negative emotions out and threw them away.

And life has been awesome since.

I used to hate Valentine's Day because it highlighted how utterly alone I was. Today, I'm totally fine. Yes, there are multiple people in love with me. Yes, I wish I were in love or even attracted to a girl. Yes, those elements are preparing for some major pain in the future. But I'm not worrying about it. At. All.

If I want to go on a date, I ask someone. If I don't, then I don't. It's that simple now.

When someone tells me I should date, I calmly tell them that I'm attracted to guys and an exception to the "everyone needs to date and get married young" mentality that is so easily promulgated, that God will take care of me, and that I date only when I want to.

That normally pushes people off guard enough that they gasp. Sometimes they affirm that I could get married if I wanted to, and I smile and nod and change the conversation. But I don't worry about it.

How am I going to fall in love with a girl when I don't want them touching me? I don't know.
How am I going to develop a relationship with someone when I have trouble making friends? I don't know.
How am I going to convince a woman I love to choose me, with tons of baggage? I don't know.

But God knows.

And He was the Person who put me here, and gave me the circumstances I live with. Autism, bipolar, same-sex attraction are all things that I can't just think away.

And so I let Him worry about it.

I have no control over who I love and who I don't. So I follow God and let Him worry about it.
Maybe I have trouble with social situations and norms. So I do my best, follow God, and let Him worry about it.
Some days I feel awful and can't do anything about it. I do my best, realize my inabilities, turn to God, and let Him worry about it.

And the liberation has been awesome.

Letting God direct my life hasn't been a scary thing like I thought it would be. Yeah, maybe I don't know what will happen in the future, but I know it will be good, because God is the One in control. I don't need to worry about anything outside of my control, and I can breathe a deep sigh of relief when someone tells me I need to do something not in my realm.

I want to fall in love with a girl someday. I want to be married in the temple and have a family and be an amazing dad and the best husband to my wife possible.

But, even more than that, I want to be the best son of God I can. And so I just follow Him, and do my best. And I know He'll take care of everything else. Everything may not be exactly as I would have planned it, but with God at the helm... it'll be perfect.

Sunday, February 9

A Change of Heart

This may end up being one of the most stressful weeks of my life. That's probably hyperbolic. But it's still stressful. Grace has multiple performances; we have to choose our dress code and do pictures and deliver Aca-Valentines; my new calling as a ward mission leader is already stretching me beyond my comfort zone (and I have at least 7 hours of meetings today); I got another awesome writing job for the Church but have to have it done by Friday... yeah.

I woke up around 5am on Saturday, after going to sleep yet again after midnight, and got ready for my weekly shift at the Provo Temple. At least I hadn't had nightmares. Part of me just ached, everywhere, and I wanted to just go back to sleep. But I missed my shift the last two weeks, and I hoped that I'd at least be able to function.

As I walked up to the temple, I wished there was a spot to pour all my stress away. Like a spiritual soul-siphon that would just suction off everything and dump it in the fountain. But it didn't happen. I walked up to the front desk and the stress was still there, changed into white and the stress was still there, began serving and the stress was still there.

After an hour or so, my prayer for God to take away my stress changed. My stress probably wasn't going to go away. But maybe it could be changed into something else?

My assignment changed, and I fell into cadence of serving in the temple, immersing myself completely in the simplicity and quiet. Everything else disappeared... and nothing outside existed.

10:00 rolled around, as I moved to my last assignment in the temple, the feelings from the outside world began to return. But as they did, I realized that my stress had changed. Somehow. I was excited for life, for the things that had brought me incredible stress, and wanted to face everything looming ahead of me. Instead of wanting to quit everything and curl in a ball, I found myself smiling from ear to ear, anxious for the awesome things that life is bringing me.

And that feeling is still with me.

I don't know how the Lord changed my heart. Service has always been a great way to distract me from the difficulties of life, but this is different. I'm pretty sure it was a blessing for serving in the temple, for opening my heart and being willing to give God my stress and let Him deal with it. But I'm glad that He did.

There's still a lot to do. The nightmares I had last week were hours-long fights with temptation that left me exhausted when morning broke. I've bitten off projects that are too big to accomplish on my own. But I feel peace instead of fear, hope instead of anxiety. At least this week, it'll all work out.

Thursday, February 6

Romantic Idealism

I'm definitely an idealist. I always have been. I believe in true love and happiness and honestly believe that everything in life - the stuff that happens to me - is a gift from God designed to help me find eternal happiness. 

In some cases my idealism has put me at odds with the sense of most people. Take my lack of full-time job as an example. I feel like it's better to not have a full-time job unless it meets all of my major needs in an employer (lots of different projects and the ability to use different skills being a major facet). So instead I have three part-time jobs, none of them regular or scheduled, all of which sometimes require insane amounts of work... or none at all... and all of them for different parts of me. I can fill essential oils and teach people about them, and push myself in the finances of Nature's Fusions, and it gives me something in common with my brothers. I write for Bonneville and love to create things that can impact the world and share the gospel. And I get to go to a residential treatment center and be a role model and counselor for kids who don't really have people who have taken care of them. It's perfect for me, in an unscheduled-I-don't-know-if-I'll-have-work-tomorrow kind of way that should make me uneasy according to normal standards. But I'm good.

I'm also an idealist when it comes to money. I wish... When I first learned about the law of consecration in Sunday School, I found myself praying that it would be re-instated because it sounded so... perfect. Utopian. Happy. Less stressful than how things work today. Everyone does their best, gives their all, asks for what they need...

I'm pretty sure there is more to it. But my 7-year-old self is still alive and well, and I have just as much difficulty selling (instead of giving) essential oils to family members and friends as I did accepting babysitting money as a teenager. I made some parents really concerned when I wouldn't take their money. Enough that they talked with mine. I remember my dad sitting me down and telling me I had to accept people's money when I worked for them. He totally didn't understand. Or when I volunteered for months for a position, which then became paid... and almost quit my job the first week because I didn't feel I was worth the paycheck.

Yeah. So maybe it's a self-worth issue mixed in with idyllic romanticism. Whatever. I know I'm worthwhile now at least. Sometimes. ;)

So it's extending to my a cappella group. We sing only really positive songs, we perform every week... and now I'm going the next step. Our concert on April 10, instead of being a flat $12 or $20 for admission, is going to be name your own price. That way people can choose to pay what they think the concert will be worth... what feel comfortable giving... and what they can afford.

The Covey Center doesn't have a way to do name-your-own-price online, so people have to call in or visit the box office in Provo. Tickets went on sale yesterday... and name your own price went live today. I was just excited that they were willing to make it work. :)

I talked with an economics professor today to ask for advice on making it work and, for the first fifteen minutes of our conversation, he tried to convince me to change my mind. Just lower the price, or sell the tickets at $12, or introduce price discrimination by selling some seats at higher/lower prices, or do this or that. It was still good to talk with him; if nothing else, it gave me a pulse from someone who works with numbers everyday, and pushed me to want to believe more in society than he did. His biggest concern was that here, in Provo, Mormons always want a deal or a coupon... and with name your own price, what would keep me from losing everything on the concert?

As I said, I'm an idealist... and I only have my own experience to draw from. I know that even though I love deals more than most other people, when someone appeals to my sense of trust - when they trust me or entrust me with something - I honestly admire them. There's a restaurant (or was, it's been a while) in downtown Salt Lake that was name your own price. I took my little brothers on a trip to Salt Lake just to go to that restaurant once while they were in town from Chicago. They wouldn't eat anything, so I didn't take much. When I finished my plate, the cashier suggested I pay $5 for my meal. I paid $30 and was awesomely happy. I left the place grinning from ear to ear because I felt like I was a part of something beautiful... something helping the world be a better place. Paying $5 for a $5 meal, or a $10 meal, wouldn't have given me that.

I just realized that this post might sound awfully self-serving. Especially since I'm telling you about Grace's concert.

Um.

Wow. That sort of took the wind out of my sails... and made me want to both erase it all and just assume that it will all work because people are good and no one is really self-serving and people realize that.

I am definitely an idealist. I don't even give other thoughts a chance. Or feel bad about tossing them. Lol.

And I assume that people are like me. I'm in love with life, and while I might want an amazing deal when I can get it, I only want deals so that I can turn around and support the causes that I really care about.

So, back to news, Grace's concert is going to also be a benefit concert as well. If you name your own price, 20% of your ticket price will go to giving back to the community. 20% because at least I'm down-to-earth enough to remember I have to cover theater costs. I'm not sure exactly where or how it'll be given back yet (since what we can do will depend on how much we bring in) but it'll happen.

Cool, huh? That's the kind of thing that I enjoy being a part of, just because I love feeling empowered. 

The promo code is "Amazing Grace."

...and in my contract with the theater I agreed to include the following (useful) information every time I talked about the performance:

In-person: 425 W Center St, Provo
Open M-Th: 10am-6pm, F: 10am-2pm

Tickets also on sale online (not name your own price): https://secure.coveycenter.org/webtix/showdates.php?s_id=778

The Covey Center for the Arts is owned and operated by the city of Provo.

Online and phone orders are charged a $3 convenience surcharge per transaction (not per ticket).

Tuesday, February 4

The Saratov Approach

I finally saw the Saratov Approach last night with a friend. (I say finally because my cousins were executive producers of the film and one was in it)

There were a lot of things that brought back memories. 

The moment when they ask about the Russian mafia: memories of teaching leaders of the Italian mob.

The breakthrough when they learn to love their captors: the same breakthrough I had while teaching a professional assassin... who exuded evil... and sadness... more than I've ever felt. And that same feeling when I learned that some of the highest bosses in the mob had originally been tricked/forced into being there to keep their families alive.

But the memory that hit me most was one that took me back to a moment I still remember... and, in a strange way, treasure. 

It was my fifth day in the mission field, and my companion and I had earlier that day finished with my appointment at the immigration office. We were on our way to teach a poor, faithful member in Napoli. We got off the subway Metro at Materdei, and I still remember seeing the sculptures outside the stop sparkling in the sunset. 

Earlier that day, my companion had warned me that the Sanitá - the zone where our appointment was held - was a "pretty dangerous place," and we had joked about what we'd do to take out would-be criminals: him with his Abercrombie body (he told me once he had modeled for them, and he played for the BYU volleyball team... neither of which impressed me as much as they were supposed to) and me with years of dance.

We turned the corner from the station, and walked down the wide street sided with luxury apartment buildings on the left, the stairs to the Sanitá half a mile ahead of us to the right. It was just after dusk now, dark because of the Napoli smog, but too early for the street lights to turn on.

Only us and two men were on the street, and as we walked they began walking toward us.

Instants later, we were pushed up against the wall surrounding the apartment complex, and I had gun pushed against my stomach. "Soldi! Soldi! Dacci soldi!" We tried to tell them we had nothing worth stealing, but they took our backpacks and found my companion's wallet in the outside pocket of his overcoat. They tried to take his watch, but the thief's fingers were shaking so badly that he couldn't undo the clasp.

As they took our stuff, I remember looking out along the street and thinking, almost detached, about how odd it was that there was no one else around. And in the same moment, I realized that the only feeling I felt was peace.

The moment in the movie, when the Elders are in danger, and turn to each other and say, "What do you feel?" "Peace." ... I've never heard someone share that same experience before. But it rang true to me, and took me back to standing at the side of the road, watching two shaking, scared kids with a gun take my scriptures and MTC journal.

They were scared. Theft in Napoli is punished far worse than theft here in the US. Here, you maybe go to jail. But there... the guys who robbed us weren't part of the organized mob... which meant they were working in the black market of the black market, and stealing without permission. I don't know the exact punishment, but it was probably a good reason to be scared.

The thoughts of fighting back, or of anything, disappeared and all I felt was complete peace. They rode off on a motorcycle, my companion broke down, and life went on. A man let us into his apartment and gave us some water (fizzy water - I hadn't yet learned to appreciate it), and we missed our appointment.

Long story. I know.

But in the theater last night I remembered that feeling as if I was there again. Remembered the incredible peace... and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for the Lord's protection when I was in danger. Gratitude for His protection of missionaries all over the world. Gratitude that He is willing and able to give us peace no matter what dangers or trials we face.

I'm glad that I had the chance to feel that peace - to see the hand of the Lord so clearly in my life. It cost me my passport and ID's, a newly marked set of scriptures, and my scripture journal... but the payout to me - in faith and knowledge from feeling God so clearly - was worth anything they could have taken.

I don't know the Elders who were kidnapped in Russia. But I hope that they had the same experience I did in feeling God's presence... and I hope that everyone can have that experience at some time or another. Not getting robbed or kidnapped... but feeling complete and total peace when fear should be there.

Sunday, February 2

Jumping in With Both Feet... and Not Looking Back

For as long as I can remember, the temptation for pornography has been there. Sometimes every day, sometimes cycling to an unseen rhythm that would disappear and then strike without notice. I've learned coping skills and things that I can do to overcome temptation, but it never really seemed to change the fact that temptations were still there. 

For a while that distressed me. And made me think I was even more of a sinner for just being tempted. But then I realized that temptations aren't sin - just my reaction to them - and I was able to feel peace. In the end, I assumed that the temptation would just always be there. Always a part of life because... well... that's what past addictions do, right? They haunt you forever, always reminding you of the importance of being careful and focused on doing good.

But earlier this week I realized that it's been a long time since I was even tempted by pornography. The moments in my life when sometimes the temptation would jump in have been quietly vacant... and having to fight an unseen demon feels like a distant memory or dream.

I have mixed feelings. No regret for it being gone. I'm happy without having to wrestle with my conscious mind. Just wondering why it left. Did I finally learn something important? Does Satan have limited resources in temptation and moved them somewhere else? Did God step in and remove it? Did I gain something vital to keep me safe? Is this just the calm before the storm?

Right now I don't know. My life doesn't seem all that different in the past months from the months before... so it might take some major introspection to understand. Hopefully I'll be able to figure it out; learning how to be free of temptation after years of addiction would be an awfully valuable skill / knowledge set to have.

In the meantime, my a cappella group - Grace - is already awesome. We've performed three times: once at a rest home, once at Provo Towne Centre mall, and just on Friday as the pre-show for a ward talent show at BYU. We don't have a performance scheduled this week yet, but we're doing a small benefit concert on February 27 at BYU (along with a few other groups)... and then this week I decided to take a huge jump of faith.

Other big a cappella groups perform at major venues - the BYU deJong concert hall, the Covey Center in Provo, places like that. I looked at my finances... and I've been blessed to have jobs and be frugal. I prayed about it, and decided that I was willing to invest a lot (to me) of money into Grace... to give it everything I have. Sometimes I go into projects and keep part of myself back, bracing for abject failure. But I wanted this to be different. I've never let myself jump into music and performance completely.

So on Thursday I met with the administration at the Covey Center for the Arts in downtown Provo. I found a day that was open (there were only four days total, none weekends, in the next many months, so I just chose one) - Thursday, April 10. I toured the 670-seat theater, met the light and sound technicians, talked with the director about tickets and people and demand and costs and marketing...

And on Friday, after praying for confirmation that this wasn't a huge mistake, I paid the deposit for Grace's first full-length major concert. I still have to schedule the concerts in their online system and do paperwork, but it's going to happen.

I did it because I'm okay with all the potential outcomes... even the worst-case outcome. The worst case? Everyone in the group leaves or gets sick, we have to cancel the concerts and refund the money, and I have to pay all the venue fees out of pocket... and lose all credibility as a director. I don't think that will happen. I definitely hope it doesn't. But it might.

We could also just not sell enough tickets, and not cover the costs of performing. I'm already ready for that possibility. It's much more likely.

Or we could sell enough tickets and have an awful performance and alienate potential fans. I've seen that happen. But people have liked us so far.

Or we could sell enough tickets and have a good performance and have fun. That's my hope.

Regardless of the outcome on April 10, having performances to prepare for makes this so much more real. Choosing what to wear is suddenly more important, as is choreography and getting fans who are interested in buying a ticket to hear us sing.

So this is the plan for Thursday April 10:

From 1-4 Grace will host a high school (and maybe college) a cappella workshop, for groups and individuals. Two of my group members remember doing a workshop that really inspired them... so I wanted to give back. We'll keep the workshop numbers limited so that people get face time with someone to give them personal feedback. (April 10 is during spring break, so students from high schools or UVU should be free if they're not vacationing)

At 6, we'll perform. The last number or two will be performed with guests - the people who came to the workshop that afternoon.

At 8, or a little after, we'll perform again.

That means we have to sell 1340 performance tickets, plus the workshop. That's a huge undertaking.

But I feel like it's going to happen. Yet again, I'm doing something new... and finding small proofs that I can succeed.

Sunday, January 19

Grace, Fears, and Dreams Come True

Grace is real.

Both the one that comes from God, and gives us things we could never deserve, and the newest a cappella group in the world.

Tuesday was auditions. I was afraid no one would show up, or no one would want to join my group. But as I listened to dozens of young men and women who wanted a place to sing, my fears changed.

The fear became, "What if I can't get the people I want?" The only negative aspect of holding auditions with the a cappella club is that more senior clubs get first pick on people to choose. (I'd give the pick to the student who's being contested... but I don't have much say in that.) Some of the people I had really liked in the audition got picked up by other groups without my getting a word in. But I still had people, and I felt good about it. And the group director for Attention (the all-girls group on campus) ran after me after we spoke and gave me back the audition sheet for one of the girls I had wanted for Grace. She started Attention last year, and we've been friends since then. I felt hugely grateful. And my fears changed again. 

I sent emails and made phone calls to each group member, afraid that they would all say no. But they didn't. Within two days, I had confirmation from all 8 other group members that they wanted to be part of Grace. And my fears changed again.

We perform every week in Grace... and choose our music based on the audience. But how would that work? Learning music is one thing; finding that much a cappella music in good arrangements is completely another. I'm not an arranger, and after 6 hours of trying to do a mashup of Amazing Grace and the traditional Homeward Bound, I had almost nothing. Would we have nothing to sing? A group member texted me and asked if we needed another guy... because he knew a guy who did arranging and composition. The group leader for Attention called me and told me she had found someone who arranged as well... who wanted an a cappella group. Both accepted, and I felt like we had a chance. And my fears began to dissipate while they changed.

I had sent out a survey to find times convenient for everyone to rehearse. I learned in retrospect that other group leaders chose practice times first, then only invited people who could make it. As results came in, there were no spots the entire week that everyone was free. None at all. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find a time for everyone to meet... and would have to hold partial practices... which would ostracize people from the group. And having people feel left out... that's an awful fear in my world. Knowing not everyone could make it, I scheduled the first rehearsal for yesterday, and the first performance for today.

And then all my fears dissolved.

We found each other and sat in a stairwell, getting to know one another and singing to prepare for our performance tonight. We found times to practice. Helped each other find a beat for beatboxing. Listened and played with melodies and harmonies and rhythms of hymns we love.

And I wasn't afraid anymore.

Yesterday I saw miracle after miracle... the dreams and hopes of 11 people coming true, and the beauty of the power those dreams hold. Of the 12 songs we sang, most turned out great; some we didn't feel... and our last, "Come, Come, Ye Saints" with a tribal chant (and beatboxed rain stick to accompany), was awesome enough that we sang it again to record. And it'll have a spot on our eventual CD.

I don't think I've been this excited... maybe ever. Really. I've never had my hopes this high. Never believed in myself the way that I do today.

You see, I've wanted to be a part of something like Grace for as long as I can remember. But I never felt like I was good enough, or couldn't find groups that fit. And last year I tried to start a group, but before actually trying I stopped because I was afraid. Afraid that I would fail, and, in failing, destroy not only my dreams, but someone else's as well. I mean, who wants a group leader that's autistic? Who can't really understand group dynamics?

So I stopped before even trying.

But this time I felt like I should do it, and I dove in head first. Fliers all around campus. Targeted advertisements on Facebook. Everything I knew how.

And it worked.

The feeling of liberation... of believing in myself... that's what makes this so much more than just a singing group. The gratitude on the group members faces for giving them a chance at their dreams is etched in my mind... and I realize that in the past years I really have learned things that I had never known before. I've learned to understand group dynamics, marketing, people, and communication. Negotiation skills, creating engaging and effective environments, and reaching out to understand individual needs.

All that made Grace possible...
...and it all happened because of grace.

I'm sure that Grace won't be perfect, and my idealization will find hiccups along the way. We'll probably bomb a performance or ten, and drama is a given in music. We may not become the world's best group, and definitely won't see that overnight. And I'm still somewhat afraid of mentioning to my group members that I have autism or that I'm attracted to guys. That'll come as we get to know each other... or as they friend me on Facebook. :)

But this morning, I still find myself overwhelmed and crying (yes, I cry)... because the fears I've held for so long have been proven wrong. Today I'm grateful for both kinds of Grace. They've shown me I can believe in myself. That I can change. That I can hope. And that, behind the everyday of life, God is there, watching and guiding me to the happiness that will follow if I will simply follow Him.

Grace's first performance is tonight at the Orem Rehab and Nursing Center. 7:00 in the north dining hall. We're singing hymns, with our own twist.

And we have a Facebook page that will have future performance schedules.

Facebook.com/graceacappella