Monday, July 25

Peace. Heavenly Peace.

Sometimes I spend a lot of time analyzing issues in my life. I don't always feel dramatic distress, but my mind is constantly whizzing from one idea to another... wondering how the events that happen today will affect my future tomorrow.

It means that when I date I'm constantly looking forward and trying to ensure that I'm neither leading a girl on, nor "not giving the relationship a fair chance." (Both of which are almost unpardonable sins in my mind, at least in my life) It means that when things go wrong in life I wonder how they will influence the decisions I can make in the future, how they will affect my peers, and how everything affects my family and close associates.

But even though my mind is often a blur of activity, I can still sit down, close my eyes, clear my mind, voice a silent prayer, and open my heart to listen to the Heavens. And the answer I receive is peace.

There's a lot in my life that isn't going right. Almost nothing on my to-do list will get done today. My callings seem to be floundering and I still haven't had more than phone and text conversations with some of the people I home teach. My bedroom is a mess. I haven't talked with some of my close family members in months. I still get an incredible urge to bite my nails when I'm stressed. And I bite my nails when I'm stressed. My dating life is miserable, and my friendships are constantly going through the shredder. I have a ton of people that I should have contacted that I haven't. And it's night already and I haven't taken time to really, honestly pray yet.

But there are some things that are going right... things that make the difference in my life... and things that give me the peace that I need when everything else is going wrong.

I still make time to study the scriptures. I try to make it as easy as possible... so most days I read them before 12:00 at night. I take time each day to pray. I tell God honestly about my life, and we talk about the issues I'm facing, the things I'm learning from my trials, and the things I need to do better. I attend Church, and go to the temple, and try to do the things I should.

But the most important aspect is that I'm clean. I'm not addicted to pornography, I honestly try to live the commandments, and when I make mistakes, I try to fix them. It doesn't mean I don't face issues; for example, I met a guy today who definitely turned my head. He had a great personality, a great smile, and a great body. But that's as far as the attraction goes. I acknowledge it and move on with life. And in life, while I have chaos, I also have peace.

I think that's what keeps me going. The knowledge that I'm doing okay and that everything - right now - is working together for my good. It's not just a feeling that "someday" everything will be better - that someday I'll find a wife, live happily ever after, and be saved (especially because those "somedays" never really come)... but a feeling that today, honestly and sincerely, everything is good... at least from God's perspective. I have a long way to go, a lot of problems to fix, and I may never see most of my goals in this life. But, today, I'm okay. I'm on the right pathway, I'm moving forward, and as I turn to God and give Him my will, He gives me peace.

For me, that was the blessing that came when I was able to free myself from pornography. It was the blessing that came when I honestly told my priesthood leaders everything I could, and the feeling that came when I realized I could withstand temptation instead of caving in. It gives me hope when I find myself comparing my life to others, wishing I were different or that the Lord had given me different trials. It gives me courage to help others find that same peace that they are seeking - enough to encourage them to change their lives to match their goals and who they want to be. And it gives me freedom, because I know that, whatever the Lord asks me to do, I can do it. I will do it.

Christ told His apostles, "my peace I give unto you... in the world ye shall have tribulation... but be not troubled. I have overcome the world." I think this is what He was talking about - the assurance that everything is right, the ability to be truly happy, the faith to follow that comes from moving forward on the path... being willing to relinquish my fears and doubts and hopes and dreams to God... and asking Him for peace.

Saturday, July 23

Somebody to Love

I talked with a girl I was dating once about the things she was looking for in a guy. (Yeah, I know that most guys wouldn't ask that kind of question. But I ask girls anyway. It keeps me humble.) She mentioned that she had a list of qualities she had used in the past... but now was just looking for someone who could & would love her completely. Someone who could meet her physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social needs through love. I knew the context was important, because I definitely was not meeting her needs... But her comment made sense. You need someone who loves you. I thought it was ironic because that's never been my problem. I have a list of qualities, too... but I've tossed it out the window for one overarching trait. In my mind, I was looking for exactly the opposite - somebody to love.

Every relationship I've had so far has been one-sided. A girl is interested in me, so I give it a chance. More than a chance. I throw myself into the relationship headlong, do everything I can think of to summon romance in my mind, and ask God to help me fall in love. We continue to date until I realize that the miracle I need to fall in love isn't coming, and she realizes that she needs more than I can give on my own. Then we part ways, I start dating someone else, and a few months down the road I get a wedding invitation. The girl I dated is now happily married... has found somebody to love and be loved by... and I'm still totally single. It's happened more times than I care to count.

I haven't been concerned in the past, because I'm pretty sure that I'm doing everything I can. I ask girls out, try to get to know them in every way, use every skill and technique taught in marriage prep class... and still nothing is there. If I'm doing everything I can, then the Lord will bless me and make up for my lack.

But recently more and more people have been telling me that I need to change my attitude about dating... and I've been wondering if they're right.

Most of them are random people that I don't know very well, who assume that being my age and (still) unmarried is always due to a lack on the guy's part. They assure me that I have plenty of talents and skills, then tell me to "be realistic" and to "not be delusional" and "just find a girl with whom I am compatible" and "just make a choice and stick with it" - all of which may sound like great advice to someone who is married and in love with his spouse, but is nonsensical to a guy who has never been attracted to girls in the first place and is dating notwithstanding the difficulty that creates. I just smile and nod. And if I can't have a decent conversation and help them realize that sometimes the Lord's timing enters into play (ie - sometimes men and women are doing everything they should, but are still unmarried because of the Lord's timetable in their lives - even in middle or old age) then I change the topic or leave. Everyone runs into people who have good intentions and want you to succeed, but give advice that is too general to be really useful. Having a lot of problems myself has made me much more cognizant of the advice I give... and the potential difficulties in the application of that advice.

Some others are family members who are honestly concerned... who feel I should be married by now... and who find themselves wondering why I haven't found a wife. They don't know about (Gay) Mormon Guy or that my core issue is a lack of attraction to girls... but they still care. A family member commented on my dating life or the first time - mentioning that maybe I was somehow setting myself up for failure. Another asked what I was looking for in a wife. Another asked why I went through so many girls, especially when all of them were cute, talented, smart, spiritual, nice...

And I honestly don't know the answers. I've never found a book or even an article that outlines what I'm supposed to do in the dating world when I feel like I don't fit in, or that could give me the answers. The prophets have never said whether guys like me should date girls, or if they should just pull out of the dating scene altogether... leaving me and a whole lot of other people with a lot of questions. And maybe that's a good thing... because it means that I have to rely on God completely... and it also means that we shouldn't be judgmental of the people around us... especially since we can't understand the problems they face.

So, with the advice of well-meaning friends and family members in my mind, I asked God for His thoughts on the situation. Is there something that I'm missing? Am I being delusional, or unrealistic, or setting myself up for failure?

The only answer I've gotten is to keep moving forward. Which, at least in my perspective, means meeting new people, dating, reaching out, learning new things, trying to improve myself - trying to find somebody to love.

Tuesday, July 12

Hero, Villain, or Friend?

Growing up I found it hard to relate to people. For whatever reason, I felt ostracized from my peers, siblings, extended family members... everyone. I always felt singled out, no matter where I was. I had no friends at school, no friends on my sports teams, no friends in extracurricular activities or community events, no friends at Church, and what felt like no friends in my family. The only people who seemed to care were twenty or forty or sixty years older than I was - teachers at school, advisors at Church, and those of my relatives who fit in the 'old' category. 

I thought I was a likable kid - I wasn't ugly or awkward, and had my head on straight, and I tried over and over again to find ways to make friends... to be a part of their lives or find ways to help them be a part of mine, but nothing seemed to make a difference.

The problem wasn't that people didn't like me. My yearbook was always full of compliments: "Mormon Guy, you are incredibly smart." "Mormon Guy, you're a great athlete." "Mormon Guy, you're really nice." In the classroom, at the event, or on the field, everyone was my friend... but as soon as the bell rang, or the diplomas landed, they all disappeared. And I found myself standing completely and totally alone.

I finally realized that people weren't my friends because they didn't feel they could relate to me... and that I couldn't relate to them. That, in part felt true... since I've had such a hard time at least on my part. Whatever the reason, while I tried to be close to the people who surrounded me on an everyday basis, most of them felt emotionally distant from me. And distancing yourself from others emotionally, while being a part of their lives, can have devastating, and interesting, effects.

When you don't see who people are, and the motivations and pain and anguish and choices and background that goes into their choices, people become a simple sum of the actions you can see. And, depending on how you view and relate to those actions, people begin to take on a surreal aura of who you believe them to be... and that aura influences how everything they say or do impacts you. At least this is what I've seen in my life. When you only see the good in others, they become a hero. When you only see the bad, they become a villain. I became both.

As life unfolded, the emotional distance didn't improve. I tried to make friends and be involved in the lives of others, but it became strikingly apparent to me that as I met people, after the usual greetings, they sorted themselves into two different groups. Those who didn't want to understand me, and put me on a pedestal where they could look at me... and those who didn't want to understand me, and put me in a pit where they wouldn't have to see me.

Almost all the girls I dated eventually put me on a pedestal, which was the sign that the relationship wouldn't work. Most of the people in my wards did, too... and most of my classmates. Then, on the other side, there was the rare person who hated me without knowing my middle name or ever having a conversation with me, and the people who were threatened by my presence or else thought I was arrogant, and hence felt they were better than I was.

And then there were the rare few who could see beyond the awkward social grace, or lack thereof, the massive passion for life, and whatever else keeps me distant from the world. And those were the people who got closest to me - the people that I wished could be my friends.

I have a request for you, as a reader. Please don't judge me. Don't put me, or my blog (Gay) Mormon Guy, on a pedestal like a knight in shining armor, and don't throw me in a pit for my assumed naïveté. You don't know me - only a small part of what I share here. And if you do know me, you know I'm not a hero or a villain; I'm just another guy trying to live the gospel the best way I know how... who shares his story to try to help others along the way. If the posts here resonate with you, then turn to God, decide to write your own story in the actions of your life, and become your own hero. If they don't, then turn to God and the scriptures to find someone who understands and empathizes with your life. Don't idolize me or hate me for doing what I feel is right; instead, turn to God and try to understand me... and in turn understand your own life and the choices you make each day to return to Him.

Sunday, July 10

How the Wise Man Built His House Upon the Sand

I've known the parable of the wise man for a long time. But what happens when there is only sand for miles around?

About thirty years ago, the Mexico City Mexico Temple was announced. The general location was chosen, and then geological engineers revealed to the project managers that they had a problem. The location, was above a massive underground lake, and while the ground was level and firm today, over time it had shifted and caused buildings in Mexico City to warp and collapse - the same way sand does in the rain, albeit on a longer timescale.

As a symbol of perseverance, faith, and the literal House of the Lord, a temple couldn't be built on a sandy and insecure foundation that would cause it to eventually collapse. But instead of abandoning the project, the engineers turned to science, and to God.

There actually was bedrock deep down underneath the Mexican soil, but even if the temple were built on a foundation twenty feet thick, there was no way to ensure that the sand and water wouldn't shift over time and cause the building's eventual collapse. So the engineers decided that they would build a house on the rock - through the sand. They took foot-long 18-inch cylindrical concrete blocks (pylons) and pounded them into the soft ground, one after another, until they hit bedrock. And then they did it again, and again, and again. In 220 different places within the base of the temple they wanted to secure, they pounded the beams into the ground, with many going over 100 feet down before finding a solid foundation. 220 pylons x 100 feet x 1.5 ft diameter = 38877 cubic feet of concrete, weighing almost 6 million pounds. On top of those pylons, connecting the surface to the deep foundation and stability, architects and engineers then began to build the actual foundation of the temple.

In most people's lives, just like in most places of the world, there is bedrock somewhere to be easily found. They can rely on it when hard times come. But in some cases it seems completely absent. I've seen that in my life, especially when it comes to homosexuality, addiction, and everything else involved. For years I tried to hold on to everything I could, but it all seemed to wash away like sand at the beach. And the world would tell me that being a gay Mormon is impossible, that falling in love and getting married to a girl is impossible, that staying true to the gospel and true to myself and finding happiness is impossible. And, at face value, alone, their statements are true. But with God, all things are possible. Being surrounded by sand doesn't mean that I can give up on building a house, even though it has fallen down around me more times than I can count. It just means I need to look harder, and dig deeper, to find the strength, hope, happiness, and peace I need.

In my life, the pylons on which I build my temple are the little things. Tens of thousands of blocks of meaningful scripture study, prayer, serving others, and sharing the gospel. Blocks of faith and hope and doing everything I can for years and years... sometimes without seeming to see results. In each case with the Mexico temple, the blocks continued to go deeper and deeper, disappearing without a trace... until they hit bedrock and would not move... which meant that a key to the construction was patience - patience to continue digging down. Each block seemed worthless as it disappeared beneath the soil, but as they all locked in place, each block suddenly bore part of the weight of the foundation. It was all worth it. And it was worth the wait, because the engineers knew what I know - no matter where you build, or what you are building, one thing is sure. Dig deep enough, and you will always hit bedrock.

In some places along my foundation, I've found bedrock. In most of the others, I'm still digging. And it's okay to dig - to pound concrete into the desert sands of my life. Because as I finish each of the pylons and connect to the bedrock deep in the principles of the gospel, I lay the foundation for my own life and find the strength, hope, peace, and happiness that I need. In a house built on the rock, through the sand.

Thursday, July 7

Washing Seven Times in the River Jordan

When I struggled most with addictions to pornography, felt worse as a gay mormon than the sludge of the earth, and couldn't even bring myself to pray, inside my heart I still had the wish for a miracle. The wish to be clean... to be made whole... to be normal.

In the scriptures I feel a kinship to many of the people who undergo suffering in life... but perhaps no one more than the lepers - men and women physically cast out of their homes and families because of leprosy. Leprosy in the times of the Jews was viewed almost exactly as homosexuality was by me on my hardest days... and it had almost the exact same effects. An incurable curse of uncleanliness... an unspoken and unspeakable condition that divided me from humanity and feeling loved or understood by mankind. Except that, unlike the lepers, who could be seen and upon whom others could take compassion... no one could ever see my sores... there was no one to share my pain.

In 2 Kings, chapter 5, the scriptures tell the story of a man named Naaman. He was a good man... but he had leprosy... and he was miraculously healed through non-miraculous means.

1 Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.
2 And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife.
3 And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.
9 So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.
10 And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
11 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
13 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Someone asked me this week what my solution was. What had I done that had tamed the dragon of homosexual desires and freed me from the draw of pornography and the grasp of addiction? I've tried hundreds of ideas - reading books, writing journal entries, buying good music, getting priesthood blessings, dating, trying to make friends with guys and fix old relationships, and making convoluted deals with myself to reward good behavior and punish bad. But none of them worked. They all seemed to give me some strength, and they all seemed initially to be the answer to my desires... but in the end none of them stuck. I found myself in the same hole as before. And, in reality, the answer was right in front of me all along.

For most of my life, I had the same misunderstanding that Naaman did. Like leprosy was to him, homosexuality seemed to me an unbearable and unusual trial - something that merited an unusual miracle to set me free. I wanted a priesthood blessing that would make me fall in love with a girl, or a set of unique therapeutic techniques that would leave me never wanting to see pornography again. That didn't happen - the same way Elisha didn't come out and strike the spots to make him clean. 

I saw very little success until I tried one last thing - focusing on the basic principles, the Primary answers, of the gospel. And not just focusing on them, but making them into the fabric of my life.

In Preach My Gospel it says that a study of doctrine will change behavior better than a study of behavior will change behavior. In my mind, I visualize my spirituality and ability to keep the commandments as a long line compared to the topics of the gospel. I was on solid ground around my testimony of the Book of Mormon, my belief in the prophet, my commitment to the temple. But where pornography and all its attendant demons lay, there was a massive chasm that stretched down into the abyss itself. 

For a long time, I tried to fill the abyss by throwing rocks in it. I'd pick up a technique like turning off the Internet in my apartment, and toss it in, hoping that it would suddenly cause the chasm to rise. Um... it doesn't take a geologist to tell me that's not going to happen. 

But any kid on the beach can tell you there are two ways to fill, or dig, a hole. 

When you dig a hole in the sand, you dig straight down. But eventually, because the sand relies on other sand laterally to support it, and the undersides are slowly eroded by water exposed by the hole, the sides of the hole collapse in an ever-expanding ring. The same thing happens with many problems in the gospel. Let them grow deeper and deeper, and eventually the problem that was once small will erode away everything. I've known men who bore powerful testimonies as they began to struggle with same-gender attraction... or who were just facing offense in the Church... but who gave in to it and years later told me they didn't even believe in God.

Filling a hole, or building a mountain, works the same way. You can try to build upward, but the higher the sand pile, the larger the area it covers. And because in the gospel it becomes easier to grow the more righteous you are, filling a hole is easier... and makes more sense... by focusing on simply increasing faith that is already there nearby. When I learn and apply principles of the gospel, my faith "spills over" into other areas - because the gospel is related.

Obviously, there were things I had to still focus on. Throwing caution to the wind because I do my scripture study is foolhardy. But it wasn't until I started truly focusing on the "little" things - prayer, scripture study, church activity, serving others, and sharing the gospel - that my demons and my hole of faith began to shrink. But that is how it worked for me. And as my faith has grown, it has set me free.

I'll include a major caveat. I'm not talking about scripture study where I sit down and read for ten minutes before sleeping, or prayers said quickly before bed. Those never had the power to change me. No. I needed much, much more, over a much longer period of time. One of the scriptural meanings of the number seven is "a whole lot." Naaman had to wash a whole lot of times in the river Jordan; I had to do a whole lot to begin to see results from filling my hole of faith. And the results I saw weren't complete and total change, but an increased perspective and faith in the Lord that He would fulfill His promises. Either way, it was worth it. My scripture study was daily, and combined with more time on Sunday translated into literally hours of personal reflection and writing each week - trying to see personal stories and meaning in the scriptures even when it was hard to stay focused. My prayers lasted sometimes for hours - written and spoken and voiced conversations with God on every topic under the sun, learning about Him and His will in my life. It meant that I took personal responsibility for as much as I could in Church, and actively reached out and included others even when I felt left out. I opened my mouth and shared the gospel even when I felt awkward and out of place. 

I think the biggest initial shock and investment was the amount of time that it took to actually live the gospel and do the small things enough to make it work. It took me at least 15 hours each week to do just the basics - earnest prayer, meaningful scripture study, reflection, and journaling - not even counting spontaneous service and missionary opportunities. I found I had to plan out my day and week or I would end up turning down social invitations because I needed to take the time to pray or write or study. But I wanted to change who I was - enough that I was willing to wash in the Jordan as many times as necessary... and over years, slowly, it has changed my life.

Unlike Naaman, however, I'm still washing in the Jordan today... and I'll probably have to wash in it every day for the rest of my life. I still have to worry about the pull of pornography jumping from the shadows, and attraction taking center stage in my mind. I may be attracted to some men for the rest of mortality. But every time I read the scriptures, pray, or turn to the Lord in faith, He strengthens me... and I am that much closer to being the man He sees in me. I'll get there someday. But I'm pretty certain it will take a whole lot more than washing in a river seven times.

Monday, July 4

Addiction, Abuse, Depression... and Hope

I have a family member who has always seemed like he was okay from the outside... but who also seems to carry some type of hidden weight that I can't understand. We aren't close enough that he would ever tell me his struggles, even though I wish I could be there for him... and often all I can do is watch and wonder what to do.

Today I learned that he had made a decision that put him in direct conflict with the teachings of the Church and everything I knew he had learned in his family - on principles that I thought I could take for granted in his life. When I found out I just sat and cried.

I cried because I was confused... because I have no idea why he made the choice he did. I cried because I was frustrated that I couldn't understand. I cried because I didn't know what to say, or even if I should bring it up, or how I should breach the topic. And I cried because, in watching him, it brought back memories of all the other people I've loved who have made similar decisions... decisions that maybe won't deny them their salvation today, but that, too often, influence the choices they make tomorrow and the next day... and before they know it, they've chosen to leave the Church - not from one big thing, but a thousand little ones, mixed with a lack of reading the scriptures, personal prayer, and developing a relationship with God.

And then, as I was crying, I realized that I was also crying because I could see myself in him... and my mind flooded with memories of my own choices - times when I was in huge amounts of pain and chose to act against what I knew was right.

At 16 years old, I was sexually abused. I had already spent years fighting the pull of pornography and finally felt like I was winning when it happened... and the experience was enough to rip my world apart. That day, I believed that it was my fault - that if I had been a better kid, more righteous, more faithful, then the abuse wouldn't have happened. The thoughts that ran through my head were powerful. God protects the righteous, but He didn't protect me... which means that I was a sinner, and not worthy of His love. I envisioned a shield of power that surrounded those with faith... and a field of deviance surrounding those like me. I believed that somehow my past decisions must have come out in subconscious invitations to a sexual predator. I thought it was retribution from God, or a penalty I had to pay, or proof that I hadn't really conquered my devils - because I must have done something to invite the abuse. Either way, I was less than worthless, evil, cast off, and doomed to damnation. It seemed like there was no light or hope in my life. And it didn't seem like anyone cared or understood... because I felt so guilty about everything involved that I could never bring myself to tell what I saw as the true story.

I was at home one night that week, struggling with the massive pull of pornography, and a new deep and confusing desire to die, and I finally found myself kneeling at my bedside in tears. I hadn't felt worthy to pray, to read my scriptures, to do anything that would bring me to the presence of God... but somewhere, deep inside, I knew that only He could really help me fix the problem I had created and find peace, even if I had lost my chance at salvation. The tears of pain and frustration and remorse and guilt and fear wracked my body as I sobbed an shared my pain, and told everything that I had wanted and hoped for and how it had shattered in a moment. I prayed for something, anything to help me fix my life, overcome my temptations, and become clean again. I didn't know if anything would happen. The pain was still there, the temptation was still there, the guilt was still there... but I kept praying... because I wanted to believe. 

I didn't get an answer of peace or comfort right away. Instead, I began to remember all the times the Lord had given me strength - the opportunities I had to share the gospel, the people who looked up to me when I didn't even know. I remembered the love I had as a home teacher, and the love I had for the scriptures, and the countless times that He had already answered my prayers and given me hope and helped me in little ways, even as I struggled with sin. 

As I prayed that night, crying by my bedside, I felt stronger, and for a moment, I believed that, with God, I could do anything. Conquer any trial, best any temptation, be the change I wanted to see in humanity and the world. I believed that because He told me it was true - that, if I would simply turn to Him, there was no hole too deep, no tunnel too dark, no sin too great to keep His grace and love and help from me. He would always be there, no matter what, as my Father, my God, my Savior, my Friend. And then I felt peace - peace and the assurance that the abuse I had experienced wasn't my fault... that I hadn't destroyed my life beyond hope... that I could come back to Him someday.

I went to sleep that night peacefully for the first time that I could remember. It wasn't the last time that I pled for hope, though - while the experience gave me hope, it wasn't enough to change me or to help me rise completely from my addictions. But I knew that He was still there for me... even the hundredth time that I fell and believed that I had forsaken my birthright. He would always be there... and eventually we would win the war... if I would just keep holding on, whether each battle was won or lost.

I look back at my family member who is struggling with making choices... who is on the edge of choosing to serve God or the desires of the world. And, as confused as he may be, I know what I can do for him. Love him, support him in the good he does, find ways to help him know that God cares and is involved in his life, help him grow in faith... and never give up or give in. No matter what demons we face, God is always the answer. No matter how many times we have fallen, or how we have strayed, He is here with us... and no matter what happens, He will always be here at our sides.