Sunday, July 24

Planting Seeds

My aunt posted a photo on Facebook about her emotions watching her son prepare to leave for college.

And I feel torn.

I'm grateful for the rare glimpse into someone else's life. For the emotional connection it gives me.

I still feel torn.

The post was short, brimming with emotion, full of untold stories. It hinted at an incredible depth of relationship and the  mixture of pride, joy, pain, and grief that my aunt feels from watching her son grow and now move to another stage of life.

It made me look at my life - at my job, my calling, my recreation, my blog. And painted in letters bright enough that even I can see it, is a pattern repeated over and over and over again.

At The Soap Factory, my passion is trying to find ways to teach people new things. To open their hearts to new experiences and push them into new territory. It works - I have amazing opportunities to teach about Jesus Christ, to share stories about health (and sometimes soap), and to give advice on every topic under the sun.

In my calling, I greet people who are new to my ward and try to quickly make them feel at home. In a community where there's a huge amount of turnover, and in a ward with boundaries that sometimes feel enormous, my role is helping people instantly be at ease... so that they won't just disappear or hop to another ward the next week. I'm not as good as this one, and I probably won't usually end up being a great friend in the long run, but at least I can tell who's new and who is visiting. And if I'm the only person to shake someone's hand each week, maybe know their name, and share an honest smile, at least one person touched them.

Here at (G)MG I write about my life and then send it into the unknown. People from all over the world read (G)MG - from Malaysia to Africa. I try to accurately capture all the things that happen to me, dig down deeply into my own soul, encapsulate what God is teaching me, and then just push "Publish."

The story repeats itself throughout my life. I find ways to touch people and their lives - to cut through the bulk of social barriers and get close enough to break through and make a difference, sometimes where it's been hard to make a difference before. Even my little sister tells me that every time she's with me, she learns something new.

But it comes with a major caveat.

In most cases, those instant relationships don't last very long. Rarely do they develop into something else.

There are a few major exceptions. My current best friend has somehow survived the chaos of my life and is still here. I'm getting closer to my family as well. There are a few people in my ward that I could and should probably call friends. And there are others.

But, for the vast majority of people I meet, I feel like my social world is the same one where I garden.

I love gardening. I dream of being able to grow beautiful, awesome, unique things that change the world. I wanted to go into horticulture when I was little. Today, I buy heirloom seeds, organic soil, and do everything right. The seeds are planted at just the right depth. Within a few weeks, all sprout and grow beautifully. They get sunshine, just the right amount of water, and an enormous amount of love.

Everything seems right. Even the hardest seeds can sprout with love, patience, and work - from ancient tomatoes to rare Italian Cedro.

And then the hundreds of healthy sprouts just stop growing - completely and totally stop. There are thousands of different reasons why, but by the time I figure out which one it was this time, everything is dead. The garden at my shop had to be moved to the roof because of an infestation of fungus gnats that didn't respond to every possible intervention. When I moved to my current home, I replaced all the soil in my flowerbeds because it was too alkaline, then the next year removed the even more toxic soil I had just laid down (it was literally floating on a thin layer of muck). I stopped composting because the walnut leaves that fell from my trees would just kill everything. And, just recently, we removed the garden completely... and filled it in with lawn.

I am awesome at starting things, at planting seeds.

I can make anything sprout - from the hardest seeds to the most closed hearts and minds.

But only once in a thousand tries do I even dream of being the one to see fruit - like the emotional depth my aunt wrote about with her son.

...

But that's my role, right? Someone prepares the soil, someone plants seeds, someone nurtures them, and someone gathers fruit. I plant seeds. From my blog - which allows me to scatter my thoughts across the globe - to my shop - which allows me to break through and learn about people's needs - my life is all about planting seeds.

And that's ok. Where I plant seeds (and can't get them to grow), someone else can nurture plants but doesn't have the tools to get them started. I have my own place on the pathway to Salvation - and I was given talents to do my part. Today is Pioneer Day here in Utah - a celebration of people whose lives were dedicated to planting real seeds, along with those of faith, work, foundations, and society.

Maybe that's where I've gone wrong in gardening. I think that next year I'll start seeds for gardens... and then give them away to people who can make them thrive.

And, if I'm lucky, maybe they'll share fruit with me.

Thursday, July 21

Everything Gone Wrong, Gone Right

This last week was tough. I gave a fireside for my ward on Sunday. In the days leading up to it, everything in life just seemed to go wrong.

Well, not *everything* - just enough went wrong to make life uncomfortable, but not impossible. In reality they were all little, insignificant things. But the combination definitely matched up with the adage that blessings come after the trials.

My laptop was the first death. I somehow dropped my backpack in the parking garage, and the five-foot fall to concrete smashed the corner, ejected the battery, and messed up the ports on the HP laptop I've nurtured for years. It still worked, but only sometimes. Thankfully, I have some personal property insurance as a birthday gift from my dad each year. The insurance company warned that if the fix was too time-consuming or expensive, they wouldn't fix it. Or return it. They'd just send me a check to buy a new one. So I backed up the data and sent it in. They'll get back to me by the first week in August. In the meantime I was supposed to send artwork to someone. Man.

The air conditioning unit in my shop was the next casualty. Monday morning it just didn't work. The Soap Factory is a second-floor store, so I, my best friend, and all our customers have had to brave 89-degree heat while making soap each day. It sounds far less awful on paper than it was in reality. I almost bought an evaporative cooler. One day I bought 100lbs of ice and just set huge bags of it on the tables out front, trying to cool the room down. Our chocolate melted. Thankfully, after a third of the truffles in the store turned into mush, I approached a restaurant next door. They were willing to let us store chocolate truffles & bars there so the rest would be safe. The A/C tech our landlord uses was crazy busy, but he was able to make time for us. There ended up being two different leaks in piping for our A/C unit, which is (hopefully, as of 9:30 last night - 10 days after it went out) fixed! I am so grateful for air conditioning now. I should have given all my customers free ice-cold water. That idea came a day too late.

Then my phone broke. In reality, all of my charging cables broke, not my phone, but since it was at 10% when they all bit the dust, it may have well been the phone itself. I bought a phone off of KSL. It wasn't new, though, and while it seemed perfect, I realized after a few days that the battery life on the new phone was... about 2 hours on standby. And the cord the guy supplied me with doesn't charge the phone. I had to cut my SIM card to fit inside though, so there was no going back. I tried to buy a third phone as a replacement, but it ended up being locked to the wrong carrier. After talking with customer support reps for over 4 hours, I gave up on that one and just sold it again. I bought another (this is phone #4 in one week) one to try out a new carrier, but then spent another 4 hours attempting to get it activated. It finally worked, and I'm happy with the service, but the process was so painful that I'm wary of porting my phone number over. And somewhere along the way I had to cut up my best friend's SIM card, too - to appease a customer support rep who wasn't even able to do much. Being on the phone that long helped me realize something: I am so grateful that I work with happy people, doing happy things.

Institute was next. Usually I'm on time to Institute - it's a really important part of my week and helps me put things into perspective. Last Wednesday, though, the heat and the constant stream of customers (oh. And the broken phone(s) probably) distracted me until 7:35. I missed half of class and had to sit out in the foyer. Our institute teacher is so popular that his class fills the entire half of the cultural hall and overflows onto chairs and couches outside the doors. I had seen people sitting out there before, but I had never realized how hard it was to hear comments or participate in the lesson. And as I walked out of the shop, a huge group walked in, so as soon as the prayer finished, I went back to work.

Two of our three sinks were next. I walked into the back room halfway through the Friday rush and the sink had somehow emptied itself onto the carpeted floor, which was now sopping wet. I had dozens of customers, and no idea what had happened. I actually still don't know what happened. With *this* much happening, it was pretty obvious that everything that could go wrong, would. The sink in the front stopped draining, but an hour of alternating baking soda & vinegar (not really convenient with a full store, but whatever) fixed that. I mentioned to a customer that likely my microwaves would break next. Not both of them - because that would make work impossible - but one of them, probably the one in front, to make life a little bit harder.

Called it.

Saturday, after hosting a family reunion, our main microwave stopped heating. It still turns on, but nothing gets hot... And I definitely didn't have the time or emotional wherewithal to take it apart. I am ├╝ber-grateful we have a backup. Having to walk to the back of the store is inconvenient, but at least we can work.

There was more. Half a dozen flies flew in when we opened the windows and doors to create airflow. The soaked carpet added mugginess to the already overwhelming heat. The EMV chip reader on our credit card terminal broke. Someone poured a cup of soda into the carpet. I connected one of my interim phones to the wifi hotspot for a few minutes and it used over a gigabyte of data and suspended the store's data plan (which meant we had to create a hotspot from the phone that has a 2-hour battery life). The price we pay for grape seed oil at our current supplier jumped. I arrived at a grocery store to buy important supplies and realized I had no cash, and they didn't take credit cards. I almost got hit twice by people playing Pokemon Go in their cars. My best friend's mom went to the hospital for pneumonia. The brand-new sod in my back yard turned brown even though we ran the sprinklers according to the company's suggestions. And then I couldn't sleep Saturday night.

I think God really wanted me to be humble. And since I'm naturally proud, He had to do a lot to get my attention. I'm grateful to have a Father who's willing to let me go through rough times.

Hopefully it worked as well as He had intended.

The fireside was a huge success. The little front room we met in was packed with people, mostly from my ward with a few friends. I shared some of my story, then took questions anonymously (people wrote them on notecards and I answered them from my personal experience). We got through most of the questions, then ended and had refreshments. It was simple. The response, though, was enormously positive - both in person and in the days since.

Was it worth it?

Yeah. It was.

It's likely that being humbled made me more receptive to the Spirit as I spoke on Sunday night. Partway through, I got a question that asked for personal advice. I had thoughts about what to say, but, as sometimes happens, I felt that I shouldn't share them. I realized that while I was the one speaking out loud, God is the One who answers questions. He's the Source of light, clarity, and peace... and, in all cases, going to Him will get the right answer. And getting close to Him is the whole reason we have this journey. The fireside was His, not mine, and I'm glad that I could be there to watch Him touch the hearts of people I love.

In the days since, life has gone better. In addition to a now-fixed A/C unit, I've had some crazy awesome experiences with customer service that have made me smile from ear to ear.

But that's probably for another post. This one is probably too long already.

Sunday, July 17

Questions / Answers

gave a Q&A Fireside tonight in my ward. We got through most of them, but I promised I'd answer the rest of the questions we didn't have time to cover in person here on (G)MG. Here they all are.


How do you stay strong, and what advice would you give to someone with similar struggles?

I stay strong one day at a time. When temptation comes, I try to get physically away if possible - get up and get moving - or I drop to my knees and pray for help until it passes. What advice? Focus on being as good as you can be, love yourself, forgive yourself, and be willing to let yourself get back up when you fall. Look forward instead of back. Let God take care of your problems instead of worrying about them yourself. Serve others and follow God, and trust that He will make it all work out, even and especially if you don't understand.

What do you do to help you through the downs of your depression?

I don't have depression anymore. But I learned a bunch of coping skills. Some were better - playing a piano outside my home for hours, or forcing myself to exercise until I almost dropped dead. But those required effort that I couldn't always summon. Sometimes I would play video games because they could keep me from turning to addiction for relief, and from wanting to die, for long enough that when I finished I could go to sleep. The best things? People who pulled me out - who came to my house and got me up and took me somewhere they could show me love, doing something I usually enjoy. It didn't make me happy, but people are far better at distracting or coping than even video games. But that didn't happen often.

From your blog experience and interactions, do you feel most people with same-sex attraction want to get married to the opposite gender... or is that too difficult and complicated?

I know that, in my case, I just want to love, be loved, and have a family. There were definitely times that, if I could have snapped my fingers and fallen in love, I would have done it. Marriage has people strongly on both sides. And yet, at least from my limited perspective, getting married seems to be far less important than loving/being loved/having kids in the faithful, Mormon, same-sex attraction community. There are lots of men and women with same-sex attraction who make the decision to be married, and plenty who also decide that waiting on the Lord for that miracle (which may not even happen in this life) isn't worth it. At the beginning of their journey, I think most members of the Church want to be married in the temple, even if they don't understand how it will be possible. As they become more disenchanted with the gospel, it seems like that desire lessens greatly.

Would you say there's a connection between pornography, bipolar, and same-gender attraction? Or are they all different?

I definitely think they're both - totally separate parts of life, but totally interconnected in my life. The lows of bipolar could trigger intense temptations to pornography. Exposure to pornography could influence temptations in same-sex attraction. A lack of understanding about same-sex attraction, or feelings of guilt about pornography, could potentially trigger depressive mood swings. And yet each one can also act completely independently, even in opposition to the direction in which the others are traveling.

What has been the response from the gay community about your blog / choice to live Church standards?

I get ridiculed by people sometimes who claim that my decision to be true to God is not "authentic" to who I "really" am. When I began blogging, some people didn't think I was real at all. One person claimed I was a group of BYU professors, another wrote that I was probably a General Authority undercover. Obviously both were far from the truth. Some people have told me that my existence is a major threat - since I'm faithfully religious, still single, and only attracted to men - apparently my life invalidates some of the assumptions underlying their own. Most probably don't even know I exist, and some reach out to me with questions - wanting to better understand their religious friends or family.

Would you adopt? How do you plan on facing that issue?

I want to have my own kids. Yes, I'd adopt if I needed to, but I'm not going to marry a woman if I'm not interested in having a family with her (and all the prerequisites to making that happen). That wouldn't be fair to me or to her.

How has your life changed since you learned you were attracted to men, and accepted that as part of your life?

I'm a lot more forgiving of myself now. I used to treat myself incredibly harshly. Now I realize that I make mistakes, but so does everyone. The important thing is getting back up and trying again. Another thing that's changed is that I also have a really hard time dating. I used to date a ton. Since I've shared my experiences openly, I haven't gone on dates with many people. It was a lot easier to just not have to say anything - now I feel like I'd have to explain, "I'm not physically attracted to you, but I thought I'd ask you out anyway." - and that just doesn't sound appealing.

I heard it a gay guy who married a friend of his (girl) even though he wasn't attracted to her. What do you think about that? Right/wrong? Would you consider doing that?

Marriage is a totally personal choice. Other than the requirement of man and woman, there are tons of variables in each one. I know that for me, I feel that I'll need to be deeply attracted to a woman to be able to marry her - so I feel I have to wait until I fall in love. It's possible that this guy got a spiritual confirmation that she was the right person even though there wasn't attraction... but I'd be wary. Marriages with same-sex attraction are incredibly difficult even with love and attraction. Without it, they may be beginning one step closer to potential problems.

Do you think viewing pornography led you to be attracted to men?

I don't. I was only ever attracted to the same sex. But the fact that I chose pornography about same-sex relationships, and never viewed or read pornographic material involving women, was actually exacerbated by cultural norms. I learned in Church that women's bodies were sacred and that pornography was seeing them naked. I wasn't ever taught that men's bodies were sacred, and no one ever spoke about male pornography... and so there were times that I honestly told myself (pretty convincingly) that what I was doing wasn't as bad, because there were no women involved.

How have you been able to overcome social difficulties with autism?

For me, the biggest key to overcoming my social failures is having a "role" to play. At Church, I'm a greeter - so I talk with people. I'm a ward missionary. At work, I actually created my own role - one that focuses on the things I love to do best. In relationships.... Um... I'm awful. I can communicate well with people until they get to a certain point of closeness, and then often communication is really hard. My best friend and I have tons of trouble communicating. One thing that has helped, though, is to learn how other people communicate. Just look up autism and social dynamics studies like priming, peer pressure, sarcasm, honesty, candor... it was really eye-opening for me to realize how different "normal" was from my own experience.

My brother just left the Church. How do I answer when he criticizes the Church and its doctrine?

Just bear testimony. Use first person and talk about your own experiences. Don't ever try to conjecture about what someone else feels or why they did what they did. Pray for guidance. And sometimes, if the Spirit prompts you, just be quiet. If your brother already knows your feelings, he might just be looking for a confrontation. Soft words, or silence, can be golden.