Friday, November 21

The Soap Factory

It's been a while since I updated. A million things have happened, most of which I probably should have written about. But instead of boring cyberspace with a long list of the recent events in my life, I'll just stick with today.

I have mixed feelings about this post, since it's about my business. I think I've mentioned my business only a few times before, and even though I'm fine with other people writing about businesses on their blogs, I shy away from that kind of thing on mine. But there are a couple of people who read this who wil probably care, so I'm writing it. ;)

I just opened a retail store in Provo.

Ironically (given the context of same-sex attraction and gay stereotypes), it's a make-your-own bath & beauty store.

My company (Nature's Fusions) needed a new location, and we've been scouting out places to rent for almost a year. Our first lease ended when a torrential rainfall poured through the ceiling, then through the floor, and we found endless wallboards completely packed with mold. Not really the place where you could make all-natural stuff with organic ingredients and no artificial preservatives. Yikes.

Thankfully the landlord let us out of the lease and a few months later we found a new spot that's more conducive to our needs.

Simultaneously, I had the desire to open my own business (yet again), but this time to teach people and enable them to create something useful and beautiful. Hence the vision for The Soap Factory. We provide the bases and raw ingredients, silicone molds, mix-ins, essential oils, and natural pigments to make soap, lotion, scrubs, and more. Everything is 5 cents/gram, with a lab fee that covers mix-ins and essential oils.

I was terrified that no one would come. I put my entire bank account into buying supplies for the store, choosing decor, and prepping for customers. We opened a little over a week ago.

And people came. Not a ton of people, but enough to make me feel like it was going to work out. Older couples who were out on a date. Young singles out with friends who made presents for Christmas. Families with little kids. A woman who simply bought unscented hand-made lotion and soap without mix-ins because that was what she needed.

We had some news coverage as well - I sent out press releases to a couple of locations (as did my brother) and two places have done stories thus far -

On CBS KUTV 2 News This Morning (TV):
http://www.kutv.com/news/features/2news-this-morning/stories/Saturday-November-15-2014-57788.shtml#.VG9qpom9Kc0

At the Daily Herald (print):
http://m.heraldextra.com/news/community/business/personalized-soap-and-scrub-business-opens-in-provo/article_90a4f544-ac3f-5264-bdf9-3169145e066e.html

We're having our grand opening this week, through Saturday the 22nd. Everyone who makes a purchase gets a free 15ml bottle of peppermint essential oil (retail $15), and half-off lab fees (usually $5/person).

As far as how this is affecting my life... Life is amazing. There are still huge issues to resolve, like how I can be a friend when I'm managing a store. How to better manage my time so I'm not a workaholic (as runs in my family). How to get enough people inside the store to break even and then (hopefully) make enough money to support myself and others. Or whether to introduce custom lip balms or lotion bars as our next product ;)

But seriously, it's made me smile a whole lot more. I didn't realize how much I missed helping and teaching people. Watching their eyes light up as they unmold a particularly beautiful soap. Helping customers choose a scent that their grandmother would like, or watching them laugh as they talk an hour or two away. And watching my brothers and best friend/employee have a blast helping people as well.

Hopefully The Soap Factory will be hugely successful, and I can open up more locations for people to make their own custom creations, or franchise, or whatever. For now though, I'm glad I had the courage to try, and the preparation from God to make it work. Having an MBA makes sense now when it didn't in the past... and I can make business decisions that actually help people have a better experience and a better life.

*sigh*

Now if only the rest of life were as simple.


*other info*

Nature's Fusions & The Soap Factory
1394 N Freedom Blvd, Provo, UT 84604
Open Mon-Sat 12-10

Facebook: http://www.Facebook.com/thesoapfactoryprovo

Instagram: @soapfactoryprovo

Twitter: @make_soap

#make_soap

Sunday, November 2

Being a Better Friend

It's been a long time since I've blogged here, yet again. But Daylight Saving Time just gave me a free hour. So I have some time to think and write.

The last few months have, at least in comparison, been awesome. I no longer get bipolar mood swings, ever, and I can eat carbs again. That's a miracle. My business is doing well... and we're growing popular enough that we have to make a few decisions as to the ultimate direction we want to go. I think I know the answer to at least some of the questions. Not the answer I really wanted, but it's a solution that makes a lot more sense.

I'm also beginning another business to coincide with the launch of our retail store... and just invested my entire life savings into getting it going.

But today, while I have a bunch of business issues I'm facing, stress in my church calling, and fear about my own personal direction... I'm fasting to be a better friend.

You see, the last few months, or maybe years, have done more than just rid me of bipolar. Somehow along the way I started making friends. When I was younger - and even in college - my friendships didn't really last long. If I had someone to confide in, it was for a few months at most before circumstance pulled us apart. And, most of the time, I felt like I had no one that I could really have as a friend.

Part of my problem was expectation. I think I wanted one friend who would meet all my needs... and I didn't fully appreciate the people who were part of my life. At the time, I didn't know what to do. But I probably broke more friendships by trying too hard, and giving the unspoken message that I expected too much, than by any other method.

Fast forward to today. And I have a growing list of people now... that I've... I don't know. Not found time for? More like hurt. People who I've hurt. Including my best friend, who gives me a huge amount of time and effort. And this is worse than I ever felt when I was alone. For the first time ever, there are people in the world who want to talk with me. Spend time with me. Be my friend. And I am just as clueless as I was when I tried to make people want me in their lives.

I've realized that the desire to only have  one friend wasn't right for me... because I'm still too needy for one person to handle. I remember a teacher in college talking about that. He said that it's absurd to assume that we will find a friend who can meet all of our social needs. Even in the case of marriage, if you can find someone who meets 80% of your needs, that's awesome - you'll just need to ensure the other 20% are met through outside support. Over decades, you can develop the ability to be closer to 100%, but at least at the beginning it's not going to happen.

So my definition of "friend" has changed and broadened - from someone who could meet all or most of my needs, to someone who is actively involved in my life.

And with that change in definition, I have the sudden realization that I'm a awful friend.

The issue is that I am so awful at being a friend that I break all the rules without even knowing them... and I don't know how to pick up the pieces. People email me, and it takes me weeks to reply. Others leave voicemails and it takes just as long. Sometimes I don't respond to text messages. And even when I feel like I should call someone, I don't.

Why?

I can't make life any worse than it was, or make any worse mistakes than I already am. I'll probably end up hurting people I care about... but I do that already. My best friend and I find ourselves arguing constantly, and I feel like I'm the reason it happens - both because I don't know how to communicate well, and because I've broken pieces of our relationship I don't yet know how to fix.

So today I'm fasting with the hope that I can learn to be a better friend... and be guided to do the right things for me and for other people. My free time is going to be chopped into pieces when I open my retail store in 10 days, so I know I'll need the divine help even more.

Is learning to be a friend this hard for everyone? Or am I just doing it much later in life? If this is the social chaos that hits people in middle school and high school... I can understand why the teenage years are usually incredibly stressful times of life. It just took me an extra 16 years to get here.

... Life. I get the feeling that my life is so not normal. But, then again, life is unique for all of us. That's something I'm (still) pretty sure of.

Monday, October 6

Supreme Court Denies Gay Marriage Appeal

An apostle spoke yesterday in conference and said that sometimes laws are passed that go against the will of God. That we, as members of the Church, should continue to show kindness even when we deeply disagree with the things our country does.

I wonder if he knew about the SCOTUS reply that was issued today. 

It's possible.

Today the US Supreme Court denied the appeal of Utah and other states that wanted the right to define marriage in their individual state constitution. That ruling effectively strikes down the constitutions in those states... as well as a number of others. Any state under the jurisdiction of each appellate court is now only a bit of red tape away from being required to issue marriage licenses to individuals of the same sex.

Which means that "marriage" is no longer a term I really want to use anymore. It's still an awesome term in my mind - since marriage is ordained of God and is between a man and a woman. Political shifts and legal issues don't change the truth that God teaches. But now every time I say the word "marriage," there's a chance that people will misunderstand exactly what I'm talking about. So I guess "temple sealings" and maybe "future/potential temple sealings" would work?

Sigh. 

Did I really choose to live right now? When I find myself embroiled in the midst of an issue threatening to rip the world apart?

I'm against any sexual relations outside marriage between a man and a woman - that's the law of chastity. God can see from His perspective the choices that lead to happiness. Same-gender / gay marriage does not lead to eternal happiness, and so He encourages me to make other choices. I'm grateful for a church that sticks to the truth even when pressured by society... and even though the pressure of society is going to rise. Yeah, I know that many gay marriage supporters claimed that it was simply about equality, but the reality is that most people don't care about equality. They care about acceptance. And there is no way to legislate acceptance.

The Church tries to help people feel loved regardless of their choices. That said, there's still a striking difference between the blessings available to a faithful, celibate gay Mormon and those available to one who got married this morning to a gay partner. The faithful, celibate Mormon can attend (even work) at the temple, hold callings, pay tithing, exercise the priesthood, serve a mission - everything the Church offers. The person who got married this morning can't be a member of the Church, can't pay tithing, can't serve a mission or attend the temple. He can still receive blessings from someone with the priesthood, participate in activities, service, and family history, attend Church and auxiliary meetings, but nothing beyond that. Ever.

The Church doesn't close its doors on anyone. Everyone is invited to come and be as much, or as little, a part of the gospel as they desire. While I'm saddened that the Supreme Court denied the right for states to define marriage, I hope that people who have fought so hard for this issue can finally see that we care about them. I hope the turmoil of the war can cease, and that people can become converted to the gospel. Legislation was never going to change people's hearts; hopefully, now that the legislation is over, people can open their hearts and learn the truth of God's love and His commandments.

It's going to be a rough journey.

Sunday, September 14

A Thousand Years in Zion

We just sang "Come All Ye Sons of God" in stake priesthood leadership meeting and during the 4th verse I actually laughed aloud. "In heavenly bliss your time employ / a thousand years in Zion to praise the Lamb." The thought that being ├╝ber-stressed in continually doing the work of God would translate into supreme joy seems distant right now. I don't think I'm ready for a thousand years of heavenly employment yet. I certainly haven't reached the point where that would bring me bliss. I have trouble living day to day. Stress is slowly wearing me away... and I'm watching myself get pulled thinner and thinner across the issues of my life.

I haven't been writing recently... and for a long time that was my primary method of dealing with stress. I have a lot of stress right now. Maybe today I can begin to regain that habit.

Tomorrow I leave for the East Coast - I'm attending Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, a massive supplier-retail trade show for the natural health industry. Having a 10x10 booth costs thousands of dollars. Thousands of dollars for the opportunity to meet retailers from across the country. That's one source of my stress. I feel like we're much more prepared than we were last year; last year we knew nothing about what to expect, we knew nothing about the show, we knew very little about how to attract retailers at all. This year we have custom displays, a simpler theme, and another year of experience pushing us to pull people from the aisle. But the preparation is still a huge source of stress.

A second source of stress also comes from business. We're opening a retail store in Provo. This is our second attempt at opening one. On the upside, the location we're going for this time is almost guaranteed to have no roof issues, as it's under an apartment complex. No molding walls, crumbling ceilings - this one is almost perfectly ready to move in. But it's still a huge undertaking as we tackle questions about displays, design, theme, exactly what to carry in the store, customer experience, opening hours, marketing and advertising... Yes, we're excited. But I'm also scared. What if we do something that ruins our brand image? What if we launch a retail environment and no one comes, even with a massive coordinated marketing push? I feel like it'll be ok. But I'm still stressed.

Church brings stress as well. My calling is slowly wearing me down - from Wednesday evening visits to early morning meetings throughout the stake to attempting to reactivate and motivate ward missionaries, I'm running out of steam. My temple shift is a great time to feel peace, but it's still 6 hours taken out of each Saturday, and last night it conflicted with stake conference.

Then I have relationship stress. My best friend's grandfather died yesterday, and I'm going out of town and won't be able to be at the funeral. He's trying to figure out his life, and I can't make any of his important decisions for him. And, in reality, I feel just as lost in my own life. Other people around me are going through major crises, and each thing gets added to the burdens I carry each day. Yes, I know I should give all the issues I carry for others to God and let Him take care of it, but I don't.

And then there's just random sources of stress that have to be some sort of Celestial addition to my life. I had a dream last night that really shook me. I was driving down the highway, and noticed a car that had spun out because of gravel on the road. I passed it to the left, and then hit another massive patch of gravel. My car began spinning, spun a three-quarter turn, then tipped over and crunched on the ground. I could see an oncoming truck trying to stop, and I felt the immediate prompting to get out of the car and run for the side of the road. I didn't. The truck hit me, and I woke up.

I felt like I had actually been in a car crash. I still do. My neck hurts. My back hurts. My arms and legs hurt.

So as I was getting ready for stake priesthood leadership meeting this morning, I was wondering what I was supposed to learn, if anything, from this dream. From my huge amounts of stress. From waking up feeling like I've been smashed by a truck. Should I simply drive safely during the 70+ hours of driving I'll be doing in the next week? Follow the promptings of the spirit even when I don't know how I'll be able to? Learn how to better manage the stress that makes me feel like I've been in a car crash?

Maybe all of them.

Someday I hope that I can figure life out. I feel like I'm getting there. Yeah, I'm sore. Exhausted. Overwhelmed. On the edge of getting sick. Falling behind in a thousand different areas. But in the moments when I can step away, life is good. God is amazing. And I'm sure that in the midst of the turmoil and pressure and stress, I'll grow to be something better than what I currently am. And then, maybe someday, I'll be ready for a thousand years in Zion.

Saturday, July 26

Becoming a Friend

I've wanted friends for years. Growing up I saw my siblings with their entourage of friends, and me seemingly alone... and somehow I felt superior. I felt like I didn't need friends. The reality is that I had people who were my friends, but I took them for granted. And I lived somewhat in my own autistic-no-one-else-really-exists world. My friends moved away, and I was still just fine. But a few years later, during a bipolar mood swing, something switched inside my mind. I became acutely aware that I had no friends and suddenly I needed them.

But I couldn't make them. I could be a friend, but something always kept the relationship from working out. My efforts to make friends were smashed over and over and over again. I was probably too needy this time, instead of too detached, and my social awareness was on the level of a newborn. A slow-learning newborn.

After a few years of incredible pain where I realized that I couldn't make friends, I turned to God in total anguish. One night, as I was talking with God, He told me what to do. If I was willing to reach out and help other people - to be a friend to them - He would take care of me.

So I tried.

I tried to make the part of myself that needed friends die, and instead let God be my only Friend. And it worked. Each day I would try to reach out, and the pain would slowly accumulate, and each night God would heal me and give me peace. Sometimes I would wish for something else, but at least I had peace.

I went on my mission and despite my efforts somehow pushed away most of my companions. I still had trouble maintaining friendships. Instead of coming home with a slew of lifelong friends, I had only a few people who were still willing to talk with me. I was getting old enough that everyone I tried to befriend already had friends.

Then God began helping me see some of my personal problems - things that were making it harder for me to be a friend and accept others. Huge pride. Addictions. Mental illness. A lack of awareness of the needs, feelings, and methods of communication of others. Fear.

And slowly we began touching the parts and trying to make them whole.

Addiction was the simplest, but also the longest road. Talk with my bishop, and do anything to get out of it, forever. I turned off my internet and avoided places that could trigger temptation... and didn't give up even after messing up time and time again. I still fight it sometimes.

Learning how others communicate came partially through getting an MBA. Ironic? Yeah. But it worked, at least somewhat. That same group of people helped me overcome fear. I was afraid that people who knew the real me would reject me. But when I shared everything about my life with them, including my blog, the reaction was opposite.

And then I began to tackle mental illness. I did the zero-carb ketogenic diet and the bipolar mood swings went away completely. 2 years on it, and today I'm free of mood swings... permanently. At least so far.

I was at Institute this Wednesday and the teacher mentioned how she wanted to teach dating and courtship because it was such an "awesome" topic. I responded that, for some of us with major issues, dating and courtship is a bittersweet topic. She looked at me as if I were wearing a T-shirt with all my issues listed on it and gave the token "everyone has major issues" response and that there was a girl out there who was willing to live and work through my issues with me. I felt somewhat rebuffed... and countered that a major issue would be falling in love. On that, she agreed - falling in love could be an obstacle.

That's how the conversation has gone for years. But as I walked out to my car, I had a realization. I don't have tons of major issues. At least not anymore. My bipolar has dwindled to simply being a way of thinking - not a life-altering pendulum of despair. My same-sex attraction is only in the background. The demons of addiction are firmly on the losing side of my spiritual war. I am slowly understanding people, and even recognizing sarcastic and nonliteral remarks more often.

And the one issue I have (as far as marriage goes) - falling in love - is something I can't control.

But you don't need to fall in love to make friendship work, and right now I have a best friend. After years of working on myself, I was finally ready for a friend... and I'm grateful.

I looked up at the sunset outside the institute building and felt a wave of peace and surrender. I'm doing my part. God is doing His. Which means it will all work out in the end.

Sunday, June 8

Time

It's been a while. Life has been stressful, and every time I write a blog post something pulls me away before I can finish. And then it happens again, and again, and again.

But in the end it just means I have some great unfinished journal entries. :)

In years past I felt really bad about not posting. (G)MG was part of my duties to the universe, and the longer I went without the bigger the need grew. I still feel the need, but it's not as urgent as it was. Hence the dozens of unfinished posts.

But whatever.

I haven't just forgotten blogging. I missed the North Star LDS conference - completely forgot that it was happening until it was over. I missed people's weddings. I missed birthdays. I missed home teaching appointments that I had personally set. My brain is just forgetting everything.

Part of it is probably stress. Nature's Fusions (my company) just fulfilled a massive order for the TJX group, which includes TJ MAXX and Marshalls. The oils had to have individual boxes, which was the major source of the stress... since the design went through too many iterations, the press wasn't going to be done in time, we weren't sure if we would be able to ship by the deadline...

It all worked out.

We also signed a commercial lease on a building - 2448 N University Parkway in Provo (where there used to be a Greek restaurant). We'll move manufacturing to the basement and then open a retail shop on the top floor.

I hired a friend to work for me knowing we'd need help with the TJX order and the new store, and every waking hour has been dedicated to the business.

Last week the stress hit its peak. I had sores in my mouth from stress, averaged 4 hours of sleep each night, and by the end couldn't handle being around people at all.

But it's good. Like I said, it all worked out... and the rest will work itself out as time moves on. I'm spending a bunch of time on Pinterest looking for retail store design ideas, filling rapidly growing orders from a bunch of new stores and resellers, scheduling trainings and sales pitches, renovating a building that has been empty for years and was trashed by prior tenants, trying to remodel our house to put it on the market, balancing meeting with missionaries and organizing the ward mission...

Life is good. I just wish I had more skills to accomplish the things I need to do. I know literally nothing about interior design, and circumstances have left me with the lion's share of making the new location work.

*sigh*

But there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel. One of the things I envisioned - that I'd really like to develop - is a DIY center where people can come to learn and make their own natural health products. The first piece will be a soap bar with melt & pour soap, silicone molds, natural liquid colors, and essential oils. Eventually we'll have ingredients to make a variety of natural home/bath/beauty/household products. And that's something I'm excited about. So even though right now is stressful, I'm glad that there's a goal in sight.

Still no dates recently. I haven't had time... and even though I've wanted to date, I don't know who to ask. There's a girl I met a while ago that I honestly thought about asking out, but she's dating another guy and they're trying to figure out if marriage is an option. I can't really offer much of anything compared to another guy except a whole lot of confusion... so if they break it off, then I'll ask her out. Otherwise I'd rather not. I want to date, but I have so little desire to date specific people that it makes life rough. If you could call it rough. My life is awesome. Compared to what it could be (minus the perspective of the gospel, for example), my problems aren't that big at all.

Before I forget and have to go to sleep to take my brother to the airport in 4 hours... I'm trying to create something out of Grace.

Grace this last semester was an a cappella group focused on uplifting music. I felt like it needed to switch to Christian music, and most of the group members opted to not continue because of time or style concerns. No one showed up to auditions.

But I had a feeling again to go in another direction, but I need help. I want Grace to become a fireside group focused on helping people see the gospel in action.

Background: I think the people at greatest risk of leaving the Church fall in two categories - those experiencing major trials, and those very close to them. The former are directly in the hand of God, and have tons of resources available for them. The latter - the people who see others suffering, but don't see the humility or the love of God or His hand touching their lives - those are the people I am most concerned will leave. And they are leaving. Because they don't have a testimony that the gospel works for everyone. And if it doesn't work to bring honest peace and happiness and joy in the face of ssa, or cancer, or death, or mental disorders, then it doesn't work at all.

So I want Grace to be an a cappella music group that shares that message. Composed of people who have gone through difficult life problems - major depression, mental illness, loss of a child or loved one, cancer, major eating disorders, abuse, same-sex attraction, war, disability, suicide - and who sing and each share the simple spoken message, "the gospel works for me." People who can show that they have found true and honest happiness in their lives by following God and, hopefully, inspire others to turn to God and find the same.

Eventually, once I can get it to work, I want to do firesides for young adults and family stakes, simply share the message, and then create a framework so that others who have gone through similar experiences can find ways to share their own story with the people in their community.

What reminded me of it was my brother today. In sacrament he spoke about having cancer, and how turning to God helped him find peace in his bitterness and despair. I think this is a message EVERYONE needs to hear.

So my request is this... if you know someone who has gone through a massive life trial, is currently really happy in following the gospel completely, loves to sing, sings well, lives in Utah valley, and would be willing to share their honest story with others... could you put them in contact with me? I'm not really sure where to begin looking. Everyone has had problems, but not everyone has found resolution, and not everyone is willing to share. And not everyone loves to sing. ;)

I should probably go to sleep now. I'm glad I finished this post. Hopefully it won't be months until the next.

Saturday, May 3

Loss

Yesterday I grabbed some cash to repay my little brother. He had paid for some of the clothing for my a cappella group, and I needed to give him back $30. I had a stack of money from ticket sales for Grace, so I started going through looking for enough money.

There were only $1 bills in the stack. That was a bit disconcerting... until I realized that there weren't any other stacks with bigger bills. They were missing. I had money hidden in another part of my room, and I went to look for that. It was gone - the envelope from Bank of American Fork missing from its place.

I asked my brother if he had borrowed money from my room. He hadn't.

Which means that I had been robbed.

I learned that this hasn't been the first occurrence. We've lost money in the past, and the couple of times that I thought I had just displaced money before depositing it in the bank? It was just gone. It adds up to thousands of dollars in losses.

Last night I didn't want to deal with news like that. I'm in a financially frustratin position - most of my money is tied up in the business, and all the business's money tied up in meeting orders for big new customers who don't have beneficial (to us) payment terms. I'm hiring my friend to work for me full-time in a little more than a week (he put notice at his current job) and to ensure that I have enough to pay him I've stopped buying things that aren't necessary altogether.

So realizing that money is gone... has just left me in shock. I prayed last night for whoever has done this to us... but part of me, for the first time ever, began questioning humanity at large. I'm an incredibly trusting person, even with strangers. Most of the time, when I trust people, they reciprocate with amazing results. But I'm realizing that reality doesn't always match my ideal.

So what to do? Our doors were always unlocked so that if people needed to come see us, or have a place to stay, they could use our home. We've have many people who have done that in times of need, and we were glad that we could help. But leaving doors unlocked makes it easy for anyone to come in to our home, whether we're here or not.

I always wanted to be one of the people who lived in a community where you never had to lock your door or worry. When we bought our home, we spoke with policemen and they said that it was a quiet neighborhood. But we live on the edge of that quiet, right next to a massive 24-hour gym and the mall, bus stops and busy streets. Our neighbor across the street was burglarized badly a few months ago. I guess we'll be locking our doors. And never keeping cash on hand.

The loss I feel for my stolen money is one thing. But the loss I feel for my shattered ideals... that's what has left me reeling. Everything I have belongs to God. It's been dedicated to Him, and I'm just the steward ensuring that the blessings I have are used the right way. And now I feel... betrayed, used, frustrated, and parts of me are turning to guilt. "I should have deposited the money." "I don't need to keep cash on hand for emergencies." "I should have locked all our doors every time I re-opened them."

I do know one thing. I don't think I'm ever going to keep cash at home. It will make buying things from people on KSL difficult, but I don't really need to buy anything anyway. We can take cards for the business, or require exact change, and deposit money each day. For tithes and other offerings I can find a check or get one printed at the bank.

...

My idealistic image of society and people has been cracked. I'm not going to let it shatter... and slowly I'll put the pieces back in place. I'll also be a better steward of the things I have, and better safeguard them against loss.

And I pray that whoever was in so much need... can feel God's love and find His help in their life.

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.