Saturday, December 24

Christmas Traditions

It's always been a tradition in my family to watch the Nativity - and in the years since I left home, I've continued to keep it. This year, the Church has created amazing videos that are available online - at Mormon Channel - Bible Videos

The videos have only scripted text that comes from the Bible - no extra added words... just an opportunity to listen to the Spirit. They're longer than the short nativity video I remember as a kid, but this Christmas, especially with Christmas on Sunday, I'd suggest taking the time to watch them and remember the purpose behind this season and time of the year. And as you watch, listen to the Spirit... and determine what you can give Christ this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14

Ultimatum: My Conversation with God

Ul•ti•ma•tum - noun, pl. -tums
A final, uncompromising demand or set of terms issued by a party to a dispute, the rejection of which may lead to a severance of relations or to the use of force.

Throughout the less inspired portions of my life I've sometimes asked the Lord, over and over and over again, to do something that fit my demands. I wanted people to love me unconditionally. I wanted them to understand and befriend me. I wanted them to appreciate the sacrifices I was making. I wanted a happy family, the perfect life, and the ability to make my trials melt away with faith and prayer. In some of them, I found myself simply asking the Lord for help, but in others I realize that I was dictating what I would and wouldn't do, based on His involvement in my life. I was giving God ultimatums.

They all made sense to me, and, to be honest, were based on extremely poignant needs and rooted in strong faith that the Lord, in His power, could do anything for me. But with each fervent request there was a consequence I had constructed - a penalty if God did not do what I told Him I needed Him to do. I wouldn't date if I didn't have the assurance that I would someday find a wife. I wouldn't tell my priesthood leaders about past transgressions unless they, or the Lord, told me to in no uncertain terms. I wouldn't engage in life and society if society and life didn't understand me. In each case, along with the fervent prayer, was a caveat... and those caveats limited the ability of the Lord to teach me, inspire me, and help me achieve the goals I had in the first place.

An ultimatum with God tries to enforce my will, my logic, my timeframe, and my knowledge onto the ruler of the Universe... instead of humbly asking Him for help and being willing to do whatever He asks of me.

But God can give ultimatums, too.

The conversion stories of Paul, Alma the Younger, and the people of Ammon have always been intriguing to me. In a moment, these people received a personal ultimatum from God and changed a massive part of who they were, how they saw life, and how they interacted with the Lord... and never turned back. It applied to them so deeply and personally that they could never, ever forget... and it gave them the strength to resist temptation for the rest of their lives. Now I think I know, at least in part, how they felt... because it's happened to me.

A little while ago I had a dream. In the dream, I was sleeping in a bed with my siblings. I got out of bed and my mother came in the room, then clearly explained that she knew about all of my past sins. "I love you," she said, "and I understand what you are going through, perfectly. But if this (sins associated with SSA - pornography, masturbation, ...) ever happens again, you will begin to lose your ability to help them (indicating my siblings)."

The dream broke, and I woke up shaking. It was obvious to me what it meant. There's no one on earth - my mother included - who truly understands me perfectly. Only God could say that. And the consequence that He revealed - beginning to lose my ability to help my brothers and sisters here on the earth - touched me deeper than anything else could... because it was personal, because it made sense, and because I knew it was real. That was it - the Lord had drawn the line in the sand, and crossing it again, even once, would have clear, present, and lasting consequences for me... and also for others. If I ever crossed the line again, something would be lost in me - and due to my lack of faith, someone else's needs would go unmet and unnoticed.

It will take a lifetime to see what I do with the knowledge I've gained from God - whether I will value my own salvation, and my ability to help others, or whether I will trade those for the things I think I want. Whether I will make my own demands, or follow the will of God. Whether I will forget, or burn the memory in my heart. Either way, the ultimatum is down... and it's my choice from now on. I value my ability to help others, and my own eternal happiness, more than anything else, and so I plan on doing everything I can to stay faithful, no matter what the cost.

Monday, December 12

If You Could See Inside My Mind

... You'd probably find a couple of seemingly contradictory layers.

On the outside is the assertive, optimistic, passionate, and successful person that is "me" in social situations, that shows through on a first date, and the way that others see me when they watch me from a distance. It's a construct - but not a facade - that displays who I am and how I want others to experience me... and more than that, it's the interface by which I've found I can influence the world for good. I change my outer shell whenever I need to - not drastically, but to better meet and understand the needs of the people with whom I work on a day-to-day basis. Here I'm a friend and teacher - someone that can make a difference.

A little deeper is the honest, raw, rational reality of my life - the endless list that describes my (or anyone else's in the world) life and experience from a purely objective standpoint. This comes out among friends, or even in casual conversation beyond the first few minutes... and is where I spend much of my time here at GMG. You'd see my reactions and reflections in the moment, feel the pain I feel, when I feel it, and rejoice when I find meaning in life, or things just seem to work out. This world is uniquely fatalistic - not because I believe I'm fated to experience life as I am, but because, if it never works out, learning to be content with what the Lord has given me is the only way to survive. Here I'm just another person - tossed back and forth and the sum of what happens to me... and sometimes I wonder if I'll ever amount to anything.

Another level deeper and you find faith - pure and simple - and the reality that is my life in emotions and in my heart. It's the meaning I find when I've been suffering from intense depression, the joy at helping someone find peace and joy in life, and the commitments I've made to myself, to God, and to others. It's the sum of my beliefs, all held up like a pretty, perfect picture... and sometimes I stand here in GMG. This is the level and layer where I think of myself as the hero in a story about changing the world.

And the last layer is the real me. Beyond the outer shell, the things that happen to me, and the morals that I claim to espouse, who am I, really? What choices do I make in the dark of night when no one is watching? How do I honestly feel about others, and what are my motives in everything I do? Here, I'm just another person. Another son of God, another man trying to make it through life into eternity... and here, finally, I am in control of not only my choices, but my happiness. If I choose the right, and know that I am following God, life becomes far simpler than the other layers make it out to be. Do what is right, and let the consequence follow... and God will take care of me.

I am a child of God. I live here, in life, with a thousand different outside influences on my mind each day. I have moral and ethical concerns and concepts that the Lord teaches me, line upon line. And, at my core, I am who I choose to be. And, at least today, I can cut through the layers of the outside and see myself for who I am. A son of God, trying to move forward, honestly doing what I can to not betray the spark of divinity that ties me to Him. And when I see that, everything makes sense... my life is perfectly fair... I am filled with hope and peace... and I am honestly and truly amazing.

Tuesday, December 6

The Good and the Bad

I've almost posted half a dozen incredibly depressing posts over the last week, only to have my introspection cut short by something that totally lifts (and changes) the mood. The First Presidency Christmas Devotional was a good example. I had had an awful day - bad enough that others IRL (in real life) started to notice - and I was writing a post titled "When I Want a Guy," in reference to a guy at church who had somehow distracted me from multiple hours of worship. Depression, frustration, stress, and a strong unwanted attraction for another guy - definitely strong emotions to put on paper. But as soon as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began to sing, everything began to change. I felt a wave of peace, I forgot about the guy who had consumed my thoughts, my tears changed from despair to hope, and I knew I couldn't write on that topic anymore. So I used Twitter and logged some of my thoughts. If you didn't see the devotional, it's worth watching, period. You can see it at Especially amazing were the clips from the new Bible films the Church is creating - they only have scriptural quotes as script - no filler lines... just images that allow you to feel the Spirit and know what is happening... and are magnificent.

It happened again as I sat on the outskirts of a social activity, frustrated with myself, when someone came up to me and began to outline, slowly and honestly, the things they admired in me. I felt, in that moment, like God really was watching out for me, because this person that I don't even know well prays for me... and I know that God hears and answers prayers.

More depression met with a letter from someone sharing a powerful success story and the joy of reading about his ability to move forward, more frustration met with people who stopped and honestly asked if was ok and what could they do to help me in my life. If only I knew. But, together, it meant that every time I felt at the bottom of my game, there was someone there to raise me up... and for that I am incredibly grateful. Even in the bad times, the Lord finds ways to help me... to lift me and bless me and get me moving... and so I keep moving forward, one step at a time.