Sunday, January 30

So My Life Is Awesome

A few comments have drawn my attention to the fact that some of my posts have bemoaned the rejection, betrayal, feeling ignored and misunderstood and everything else that happens in my life. And the comments are pretty accurate - I mean, looking at the facet of my life that appears here on (Gay) Mormon Guy, the last two months have been pretty rough. But I hope that in each of the posts it's obvious that, while my life may be incredibly painful in one aspect, in most aspects my life is awesome. I guess it really isn't as obvious as I thought, so I'll just post about it today.

My life is awesome because I can really love people - guys and girls - as children of God.

My life is awesome because God hears and answers my prayers... not only the spoken prayers at my bedside, but the unspoken prayers of my soul and the prayers I should have prayed. He knows my needs and stands at my side through joy and pain.

My life is awesome because my family really, honestly, loves me and accepts me when I feel totally ignored and alone. They are always there for me, and I love their constant support. A comment someone made today in conversation, "Mormon Guy, the last girl you dated was really nice... Come to think of it, all your girlfriends are really nice." Now if I really had a girlfriend... or someone I could be attracted to.

My life is awesome because I love my ward, my Church, and my faith. My ward is really antisocial compared to others that I've been in, but I'm trying to change that... A conversation here, an activity idea there, suggesting ideas to bishopric and stake presidency members... And trying to help ward members see the importance of building social bonds with members of the ward. Sometimes it feels like we are fighting an uphill battle... And then sometimes it feels like we're family. Today we laughed and talked for hours in small groups, just spending time with one another.

My life is awesome because some of my major personal projects (way too specific to actually mention on an anonymous blog) are finally panning out. I've taken time over the last few months to make a concerted effort, and I'm seeing amazing results.

My life is awesome because I feel awesome. Almost dying has given me a new perspective on life without pain. It is amazing - and the days when I'm somehow able to fulfill my emotional and social needs, I'm on cloud 9. On those days, life is beyond awesome.

My life is awesome because I feel like I am relying more on the Lord for my needs. I don't feel hurt when a bishopric member mentions, in the course of a 5th-Sunday chastity discourse, the importance of "getting the right help" for people with same-sex attraction. I sincerely believe that "the right help" comes from everyday people - guys and girls - who are willing to develop honest emotional intimacy with guys like me - without worrying about stereotypes or whatever. But I'll be okay, and as long as I'm trying to openly love people around me, hopefully I can help them even when I don't know their problems. Statistically, there are probably a handful of guys and maybe a girl or two in my ward who could be reading this blog. I don't know your problems. But know that I love you either way.

And my life is awesome because I am learning tons. From talking with the Lord, piecing together botched relationships, following imperfect leaders, listening to newfound friends, opening my heart to pain and love, and trusting in the Lord in all things.

So yeah. My life is awesome. God designed it - pain and anguish and blessings and trials - uniquely and specifically for me. It is His greatest gift to me - the ideal conditions to help me become perfected in Christ and return to Him. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Friday, January 28

Bigoted, Hateful, and Homophobic

Last night I felt like I had been run over by a half dozen emotional Mack trucks. Part of me wished their human masquerade could disappear, and they really had been trucks... and then they could have seen the damage. But not... it's just hard when... I know my emotional needs are way beyond what they're willing to give. I've rewritten this paragraph five times because part of me wants to label them, and everyone else in the world who doesn't understand, as callous and unkind, insensitive and rude... But I can't.

I think that's a big difference in the way I perceive others and the way many in the gay community do. When pain strikes, it's easy to label those who don't understand or agree as bigots, hateful, spiteful, unChristian, homophobic... and in applying those labels I would apply the negative emotions, hatred and spite and insensitivity, as answer to the same. By labeling the people who have hurt me, it makes them less worthwhile, effectively making the pain subside, since those inflicting it are less human... and less worth my interest.

But I can't do that. Just as firmly as I know that I am a son of God, and that He loves me, I know that God loves all His children - including those who have hurt me, purposefully, beyond their own understanding. They aren't monsters, or hateful demons, or bigots, or spiteful, or homophobic. They are sons and daughters of God... and when I follow God, I feel His love for them. I can't curse or hate or think less of a son of God.

So that puts me in a bind. My pain would be a whole lot less if I were to label my "enemies" as such, piling on enough epithets that I could honestly question their humanity. But I know they are children of God - with divine potential - and so I can't demonize them. That leaves me with a whole lot of pain, though, and nowhere to put it. 

The next easiest way to deal with the pain would be to do nothing - to let people step on me and just "deal with it," "get over it," or "suck it up." It was what the guy who called me a creep and others who don't understand the implications have suggested - just ignore it and it will go away. But where demonizing others turns me into a demon, becoming a doormat could be worse. The pain doesn't go ever go away, only building up to a massive explosion of fire and passion - the "coming out" talks in Sacrament meeting, or the anti-Mormon books written in secret and published simultaneously with a letter asking for removal from the records of the Church... or the suicide letters simply asking for relief. It never works in the end. The day-to-day pain never ends, and rarely gets temporarily better. And when they have had as much as they can handle, something breaks and men and women find themselves scarred with eternal pain, wondering if their faith is worthwhile. And if this is all it brings, then the answer is no. No faith that only brings pain is worthwhile.

So last night I found myself wondering exactly what I was supposed to do with the pain that I've felt - the pain of being misunderstood, ignored, and outcast, on purpose or by circumstance. In both choices, nothing would change. Only really good people honestly listen to those who call them bigots and hateful, and the people who are really good love everyone anyway. There would still be pain. And being a doormat would make everyone think that I'm just like everyone else. There would still be pain. And nothing would change. And then I found a third way.

It's by far the hardest way... but I knew in an instant that it's what the Lord has taught me all along. It's the message of the gospel, and the power that can give men strength to weather any trial: Be the change you want to see in the world.

It means giving the Lord my pain and loving others unconditionally - no matter what choices they make. It means loving them when they hate me, ignore me, and make jokes in Elder's Quorum. It means loving them when they send me hate mail or post videos on YouTube or deride me in public forums. It means loving all men unconditionally - no matter who I am and no matter who they are - and without reserve. And it means showing that love by being a part of their lives, supporting them, standing at their sides, inviting and lifting them forever. Befriending others when I need a friend, sympathizing with others when I need a shoulder to cry on. And sharing my voice and my love, unconditionally.

So last night, through my tears, I gave the Lord my pain and asked Him to forgive the others - all the people in the world whose ignorant existence makes my life a living misery. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. And even if they do know, they are still children of God, still worthy of my love. And I again committed to actively loving them - to being an influence in their lives and following the words of Christ - loving those who despitefully use and persecute me.

But how far does it go? What does unconditional love mean? There's a guy I know who seems to absolutely hate me, or be afraid of me, or be jealous of me, or something. "If you had the opportunity to sacrifice your life for his," the question came, "Would your love be enough to do it?"

This was without direct commandment from God to do it. Without assurance that my sacrifice would be worthwhile. Without assurance that he or anyone would ever know. But in that question I heard the voice of God speaking to another of His Sons - a Son who had felt all of mankind's sins and seen the depth of their iniquity. A Son who spent His life picking up the pieces of those who callously, or ignorantly, discarded their fellow men. And, when God asked Him, He said yes.

That's the power of the pure love of Christ. It throws out hatred and spite and the labels of the world, and replaces a desire and willingness to do anything to bless the lives of others - hence the quote from the prophet Joseph - a man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family only, but goes through the entire earth, anxious to do everything in his power to bless all men.

In a moment, I saw all the people in my life - the good and the bad - dressed in white, standing as a family. I saw the good that they could do, and the change they could be in the world. But, most, I felt God's love for them.

So would I do it? Would I give my life for an enemy, a stranger, a friend, or a guy who hates me? Yeah, I would. Even if really loving people makes me an outcast, even if nothing ever came of it, even if no one ever knew. We are family here - brothers and sisters - children of God. He, I, and all of us were worth the life of God's Begotten Son... so he's worth mine as well.

Wednesday, January 26

Chemical Cycles, Depression, Anxiety, Temptation...

I can always tell when I'm slipping in my writing skills - the follower count goes readily down as people realize they don't want to see me in their feed reader anymore. Hopefully with time I'll get better.

This morning I woke up and felt like life was awesome. Within an hour I felt like the world was going to fall in on me. Two hours later, I was on top of the world again, and then another hour and I wanted time just to go away. The next 4 hours were awesome, then followed by the worst low of the day yet, followed an hour later by the greatest high - right now.

What is interesting is how incredibly reactive the pattern seems to be, based on outside forces and their impact on hormones & chemicals throughout the day.

At first I felt awesome, in part, because I was planning to see some friends and exercise this morning. The plans fell through, and I found myself with way too much adrenaline, high hopes, and a high sugar level, and nothing to use it up, which contributed to the subsequent down. The down went away as I began concentrating on a major project early in the day, and two hours later I had hit completion and had instant positive feedback. Then an hour later I felt like I again had too much energy to spare, so I dove into another project, and that one lasted until late in the day. I has major plans for tonight that fell through at the last minute, and I found myself, shortly after dinner, with another adrenaline high, loaded with tons of energy, high hopes, no social life, and no backup plans. So I went to the gym and killed myself, called a friend to talk, and now I feel amazing.

I know that my brain doesn't always follow cycles, but I was cognizant of them today. And since anxiety, depression, and temptation are often based in real, actual, tangible, physical feelings, at least in my case, and the physical body and mind regulate through positive and negative chemical feedback loops... It stands to reason that their results - physical feelings, whether good or bad - are regulated somewhat by those same chemical interactions.

Some of you will probably say, "Duh!" - I mean, if it affects one part of your body, it will affect every part of your body, since it is a complex, synergistic system that has feedback loops going all over the place. And, in extreme cases, we intervene with the cycles with pain medication and antidepressants. But I've never stopped to think about how all of my actions are influences on my feelings, including my feelings of temptation and depression. I think it would be a massive jump to say that self-induced chemical responses could completely control feelings, but looking back at today and the rest of my life, the concept seems way too applicable to be untrue.

On the days that I exercise, pheromones flood my bloodstream, helping to life the veil of depression ever so slightly. At the same time, it frees up energy and unless I find a mental pursuit, temptation strikes. Eating throughout the day moderates sugar highs and the lows that follow, and eating healthily motivates me to do more physical activity. When my mind is focused on a compelling idea, temptation completely disappears. And when I am completely and totally engulfed in physical and mental training - like a physical/mental boot camp I once did - temptations may appear but they don't take root unless I give them time during the wind-down at the end of the day.

That thought puts an even greater emphasis on the importance of doing the little things to better life. Taking time to exercise. Eating healthily, always, without exception - to give my body the best nutrition in the form it needs. Engaging my spirit and mind through scripture study, prayer, meditation, and compelling mental challenges. And interacting socially, even if it means going out of my comfort zone, getting outside, calling a family member or looking up an old friend.

It may not make a huge difference in my life, but I think I am going to try to regulate some of the more apparent cycles in my life... and see how they impact living with my trials. I guess that's one reason to remember to eat breakfast tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 25

Rant: Cognitive Dissonance

I'm usually a pretty cool-blooded person. But this is one topic that sometimes makes my blood boil. Right now I'm cool since I'm totally high on workout adrenaline. But anyway. The topic is cognitive dissonance. It's when actions don't align with beliefs, or beliefs don't align with knowledge. It manifests itself with the choice between exclusive principles - only one of which is based completely in the knowledge that underlies the relevant moral values.

The easiest example of cognitive dissonance that will strike a chord with everyone is that of food choices. I believe it's important to eat healthily - a value based in research and proven by time and prayer. I also know that I am hungry right now, and that nothing could satisfy my hunger better than (insert preferred junk food here). When I break my morals, I enter the realm of cognitive dissonance. All actions are predicated on beliefs... Which means that I actually don't believe it's important to eat healthily? What do I believe? And how should that influence my behavior?

Cognitive dissonance presents me with a number of choices. Either lift my actions to align with my beliefs (repentance), lift my beliefs to align with my knowledge (conversion), or continue on attempting to live a false duality.

What makes my blood boil is the most common, fourth choice. Discount my knowledge, whether spiritual or academic, and lower my beliefs to fit my actions.

I went to a lecture once on nutrition where the professor was supposed to present a "guilt-free" diet. I went fully expecting her to outline the latest in research and encourage listeners to follow it to the T. The only way to live a guilt-free life is to live by your morals, right? 

Instead, she spoke about the process of overcoming, ignoring, and subverting guilt. She encouraged us to eat as much dessert or anything else as we wanted, and to turn off any guilt that came from inside or outside. She felt that the guilt and stress that came from eating choices was more detrimental than eating unhealthily in the first place - but that actually eating according to a healthy lifestyle and thereby reducing guilt was impractical or too hard - hence she condoned changing our internal beliefs to align with our behavior.

Her research had at least some grounds. She was able to show that people who ate without guilt had less disease than those who did not. However, her "ideal" population was French, and the control was American. Americans eat more and have more disease in the first place. Ultimately, the lecture degenerated into encouragement to eat desserts with every meal to lessen stress and reduce undue guilt... and I left very much dismayed that she actually believed what she had taught.

I think that too often people look at life and its challenges and decide that it is too hard. Too hard to live the gospel, or to do what is right. Hence, what is right must actually be different in my case. It's too hard to love my neighbor, so that commandment doesn't apply to me, or it doesn't apply to him, or I can love him even if I refuse to speak to him, right? Life is hard. It was meant to be hard. It will only get harder. But that is no excuse to shoot for less than the ideal in everything we do... to cut ourselves short, discount our knowledge, and take the easy way out just because it's easy. I don't understand why anyone would settle for less than the best. Anything else has never ended up working in my life.

I look at my life. There are a lot of things I know through revelation from God. It would be easy to ignore them and follow the normal stream of life... to let others define me and to believe something other than what I know. But it isn't worth it. The things I learn by turning to God and following Him are worth any price. Hopefully when I'm faced next with cognitive dissonance in my life, I will lift my morals to adhere to the light I have been given - conversion - and lift my actions through repentance to align.

Monday, January 24

Winds of Change... on Top of the World

So either life is going to get really, really bad very soon, or this is a rollover blessing from last week's pain. Either way, the last few days have been awesome. Nothing really life-changing has happened - the guys who seemed to hate me before still avoid me, and life continues in the same flow... but it feels different. I feel like I could run to the top of the mountain and back down again, shout the gospel from the housetops, and do anything at all without fear or looking back.

But along with the euphoria of knowing that I'm doing the right things and that God is involved in my life, there's something else. Like the silence before the rain begins pelting, or the stillness before the wind rushes through the trees. I feel like the wind is blowing, right before a massive storm. Something is going to happen. I feel like everything could change tomorrow - like I could wake up and nothing would be the same. Granted, that may or may not be a pleasant experience when it happens, but I can feel it coming.

It's like standing at the edge of a precipice, knowing that I'm going to have to jump into the abyss, or walking towards the shadow of a familiar, lighted terrace, unsure if the next step will even have solid ground to catch my fall. It could be something awesome that changes my life forever... or it could be something awful that has the same effect. But at least I have fair warning, or something like that... and I know that God is with me, and that He is in the wind.

I think that feeling the winds of change is one of the greatest sources of hope in my life. It equalizes me with my dreams, and reopens the doors and windows that circumstances had long since locked shut. Somehow, anything is possible, and hope springs up like a fountain... and I end up smiling for most of the day and week for no reason at all.

True hope comes from a knowledge of the power of the Atonement... and a belief in what it can do in my life. The world often expects me to be 'reasonable' or 'practical' in my beliefs, and sometimes I am. But when the winds of change blow, and for a moment I see eternity and all its glory laid out in front of me, reason and practicality get tossed to the wind... and I become yet again a hopeless romantic - an optimistic idealist who honestly believes that anything is possible.

I don't know what tomorrow holds... but I'm excited to see. It's probably going to entail massive commitments, oncredible blessings, and a ton of hard work and pain. Either way, I have the promise that "all things work together for the good of them that love God and serve Him..." and "all these things shall give thee experience and be for thy good." The winds of change are blowing... and I can hear His voice in the wind.

Sunday, January 16

Even as Frogs

A few years ago Disney produced a film called "The Princess and the Frog" - an adaptation of the fairy tale The Frog Prince. The film wasn't a smashing success; I don't even remember hearing much about it when it first came out in theaters. But recently I watched it with my ever-present lens of how it applies to my life, and that movie will never be the same.

In most Disney films the romance is strikingly one-sided. Beautiful princess falls for thief, servant, beast, etc... Or handsome prince falls for servant, sleeping stranger... In every case, the condescension is one-sided and complete as the perfect mate stoops to let another partake of his or her glory and join together in "happily ever after."

But in this movie it's not that way. 

There is a prince, but he's a lazy useless spendthrift, not a handsome knight who has worked to someday become a ruler of his kingdom. And the princess lacks the ability to see the importance of people in her life above her beloved dream for a restaurant.

Both protagonists have major flaws, which better describes the predicament I face. I have major flaws in my life (not being attracted to any girls yet is a major one, attraction to guys another)... and so do the people I date. I've never found a girl I could fall in love with... and I've often wondered if I was supposed to "settle" for something, or someone less. I realize now that the answer is a resounding NO! True love is something beyond physical appearance or even attraction. True love stays when everything else has disappeared...

In the movie, both protagonists are frogs. One is a workaholic while the other is a bum, and both want fulfillment of their own desires, no matter what it takes. They travel together to ask Mama Odi to help them achieve their dreams... but, instead, she helps them look inside their souls. And as they do, they realize what they need... and ultimately give up their wants to fulfill their needs. They decide that life together is worth it, even as frogs... and while the rest of their lives take huge amounts of work, their patience and perseverance pays off in the end.

Facing my own trials, Mama Odi's advice and the theme of the film hits home. Part of me wants a drop-dead-gorgeous guy at my side who understands me, loves me, and can be my soulmate, and vice versa. But there is a difference between what I want and what I need. The Spirit of God teaches that eternal happiness comes through Jesus Christ and the saving grace that only He can offer. And so while I want one thing, what I really need is the faith and strength to live my life according to His will, no matter what the sacrifice.

Someday I know I'll find my own frog princess. Not someone who is perfect and takes pity on me as lowly pond scum, but a woman who can fall in love with me in spite of my faults... and who I will fall in love with in spite of hers as well. The falling in love on my part will need a miracle, since it has never happened. But miracles happen every day... And it will happen for me. With God's strength we'll make the commitment to work to make it turn out right. Yes, life will be impossibly hard... and there will be pain and sorrow. But God stands at my side today, and He will stand with each of us as we keep His commandments. His love for all His creations is eternal, even for imperfect beings with weaknesses and liabilities... whether literal or metaphoric frogs.

Friday, January 14

Never Again

I've tried hundreds of things to clear my mind when temptations or thoughts come uninvited. But for some reason I can him my favorite hymn and the thoughts are still there - and refuse to go away. I try to sing one hymn and think the words of a second, and they are still there... and then I add a third hymn, which consumes all my brain power, effectively debilitating myself temporarily from doing anything, and the thoughts disappear... Until I stop singing.

That works when I can afford to stop doing everything else in life - if I'm not engaged in a conversation or driving or actually doing anything. But most of the time that doesn't apply.

I've tried reciting my patriarchal blessing, the proclamation on the family, scripture masteries, and praying for help. But I've realized that, while each of those is useful, they lack the emotional connection to rising out of my trial - they don't bring back the memory of how I felt when I made the commitment to repent. They help me look forward, but I needed something simple, repeatable, and memorable that would hold, in stark contrast, the pain of sin and the light of forgiveness... And bring both to remembrance. It was then that I found "never again."

Today, when thoughts or images or anything else comes to mind uninvited, my immediate, resounding, repeated, and silencing response is "Never again."

Never again will I be a slave.
Never again will I turn away from God.
Never again will I trade eternity, peace, and the happiness I have learned over the years for anything else.
Never again will I let Satan in my life.
Never again will I listen to temptation.
Never again will I walk down the pathways which will lead me to it.

And as I repeat the words over and over, they fill me with courage. I am a son of God. He stands at my side and watches over me... and never again will I doubt that or doubt His love, His commandments, or His involvement in my life. He is supreme, and gives me strength to move forward in life. 

And, with the strength and His presence comes a promise - a promise that someday I can grow strong enough to be like Moroni, or Helaman, or the people of the city of Enoch, in this life - faith so strong that the devil has no power to tempt me in any thing. And when that day comes I will be able to walk forward in the light, never looking back, ever, again.

Wednesday, January 12

You may be a (gay) Mormon guy if...

1. You've convinced everyone but yourself that you are almost perfect.

2. You've never done a cat-call.

3. You know what K9 is.

4. You can count the number of girls you've wanted to kiss without any hands.

5. You have the section of your Patriarchal blessing that covers marriage memorized word-for-word.

6. You followed this blog in the BC (before conference) era.

7. You'd rather go to an Elder's Quorum activity than a date with the hottest girl in the ward. But you go on the date anyway.

8. You've made at least 10 girls cry when they realized you weren't attracted to them.

9. You can't find a picture of your ideal wife... which made that assignment in marriage prep a bit awkward.

10. You've taken every single marriage prep, dating, and other similar course the Church offers.

11. You've fallen in love, but never with a girl.

12. Your temple recommend is a permanent part of your being.

13. It freaks you out if a girl other than your sister or mom touches you. Girls who give backrubs in church? I'm not sitting by you again...

14. You'd give almost anything to be married and have a family - anything but your soul.

15. The word evergreen is more than just a Christmas tree.

16. "SSA" doesn't usually remind you of the old DOS game "Super Solver Adventures."

17. You've fasted for five days in a row, multiple times, just to get through another week.

18. You know what it's like to be alone in a crowd of people, even among family or friends.

19. You've spent at least a month taking ice-cold showers every single day, with a fully functioning hot water heater.

20. Your journal is under lock and key... or you don't have one at all.

21. You don't get massages for fear that the therapist might be a girl, or, even worse, a guy.

22. You believe, honestly, that lasting happiness comes from living the gospel at any cost.

23. You're okay with living today and finding happiness in the moment... And you have the faith to let the Lord worry about tomorrow.

24. God answers your prayers, stands by your side, and is willing to do miracles in your behalf... all but one.

25. You understand and believe... "all these things shall be for thy good, and give thee experience..." and daily you give thanks to God for the blessings, trials, and everything else He has given you in life.

Monday, January 10

One Today at a Time

Elder Christofferson's remarks last night seemed like they were intended specifically for me, in my life. Recently I've been looking at the future and wondering how I will ever be able to understand what happens, live with being attracted to guys, be celibate for as long as God intends, and maybe never really find anyone who can fully understand me other than God Himself.

The story of manna in the wilderness as he recounted it helped me realize that God gives me my daily bread - daily. He doesn't give it to me for a week, or a month, or for the rest of my life. Every single day, He expects me to turn to Him for the spiritual strength to get through the day... and when I have made it through today, then to turn again to Him tomorrow. It's not because He doesn't love me - on the contrary, the Lord gave manna in the wilderness and gives strength in my life to prove to me, each and every day, that He is with me in all things.

It also gives me hope. Sometimes I see men who have decided that, because the mountain of living a faithful life while being attracted to guys looks too hard, they won't take the first step. Or they lose hope and give up halfway when they look forward and see so far to go. The Lord doesn't ask us to conquer the mountain in a day. He just asks us to move forward, and have faith in Him, for today. And then tomorrow, He will give us the strength to overcome whatever faces us on the morrow. I have a hard time being an existentialist, but Elder Christofferson's was essentially teaching the importance of living in the moment - enjoying life and facing the trials of today, today. And then facing tomorrow, tomorrow.

One of the greatest concerns men have that talk with me is this: I don't know how I can stay true for my entire life. How can I resist temptation for that long, especially if I don't get married and face life without a family or a spouse? Even if I try to do what is right, I will always feel like an outcast in the Church since it focuses so heavily on families. How can I do it?

The answer is that, today, I don't have to do it all. I just need to live and work through today. Tomorrow, God will give me the strength tomorrow. But yes, I do not have the strength to face a lifetime of trials today. No one does. Thankfully, God does not ask me to build the walls of Jerusalem in a day, or to change our very being in a moment. The conversion He asks for, while usually dramatic and always life-changing, normally takes place day by day as I live out my life in His service. ... And He promises to give me the strength to live each day, and then to give me strength for tomorrow, tomorrow. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof.

Someday I hope to cross over the river Jordan and eat of the corn of the land - to walk in paths of righteousness and have the strength and faith to face the rest of life and see through the darkness to the light. But in the meantime, I'll turn to God, ask Him for my daily spiritual bread, and give thanks for the manna that falls from Heaven as I turn to Him. Tomorrow is tomorrow. And until it comes, I will live my life today... one today at a time.

Sunday, January 9

Let His Light So Shine

I was somewhere a few days ago and heard the song "Carry Your Candle" playing. The first time I had ever heard it was about a year ago on the radio, and the lyrics have stuck with me ever since... and remind me of the ability and call I have to share the light. 

Frustrated brother, see how he's tried to light his own candle another way... 
See now your sister - she's been robbed and lied to - still holds a candle without a flame.

As the words pass by, I envision countless people, each tightly gripping a candle in his hand, trying to find his way and stay warm in a cold, dark night. The sea of darkness is interrupted only with rare and tiny pinpricks of light. And then I see me, holding in my hand a candle, topped by a tiny flame. Why me? How is it that somehow it worked out and I learned the truth of the gospel? How have I stayed alive when so many others have given up and let the flame die? And, in a world where everyone seems to be searching for peace and hope, why does God answer my prayers and keep me safe when I am surrounded by the storm?

I think that at least part of the answer lies in the calling I've felt - the need to share the light - to run to the darkness to seek out the helpless, tired, and worn. Perhaps I needed to learn to give to others, to open my mouth, to trust Him when everything seems to be going wrong. There are days when I feel like my life is going nowhere, when I look around me and the only light I see is the pinprick of my faith in God... And then I look out at my brothers, each living a different life and fighting different battles... without even the pinprick that I hold in my hand... and I realize how blessed I am to have it.

Some days I wish I could be an angel - to have the power to speak and to shake the earth and call men to repentance... to give the world hope in the peace that comes from living the gospel and no other way. And sometimes I can. Here on (Gay) Mormon Guy I can share my testimony, and hope that the Spirit will carry my words to the far reaches of the world and light a flame to last for eternity. People from Thailand and India, Africa and Saudi Arabia, Korea, China, and almost every country in between have found the message here... and I am amazed by the stories they send.

But, most of the time, I walk through the darkness with only my own candle... and when I find a brother who will listen, I take him in my arms, share the light of my candle, and watch as he goes through life changed forever, sharing the light that has become a part of who he is. Most of those people have actually been girls, since I have trouble making friends with guys.

That's the heart of who I want to be and what I want to accomplish - to somehow mold my life to reflect the light of the Savior and show His mercy and love to those who are searching in darkness. 

And hopefully it will help my own search. Part of my trial in life is feeling alone. I can be in a room of people who love me, surrounded by those who admire and esteem me, or even confiding my heart to a friend, and I still feel alone. I find myself looking for warmth from others, instead of turning to my candle of faith and my relationship with God. But when I share the gospel, and a brother borrows the light I have been given to relight his faith, for a moment, the candles flare... and I feel at home. For a moment, I can see and feel clearly into eternity, and God's glory fills my soul with light.

Friday, January 7

Simple Things

I had a bunch of plans today, and, one after another, most of them fell through. At first I wondered what I'd do with the extra, unplanned time... and how I would keep my mind occupied.

So I turned on Pandora to my showtunes station, and I've been listening for hours as life goes on. So my plans for tonight disappeared, in an instant, after weeks of planning and after a long drive to get where I thought I was going. But I'm good. I have a few dates planned for the next week - and they're with people who won't cancel on me. And belting (and pretending no one can hear) "Music of the Night" and a hundred other Broadway classics really makes it okay. I sometimes forget how amazing, powerful, and peaceful music can be.

Thursday, January 6

The Man I Want to Be: the 12th Day of Christmas

Today I was watching people... And today I noticed numerous examples of people who put their own desires above others, and vice versa. I saw how sometimes being humble and selfless meant that they made sacrifices - sometimes big and sometimes small... but they did it out of love. I want to be known for helping people to feel like I care about and value what they think - not just what I feel. I want to be a friend to anyone who asks... even if that is hard. 

The 12 days of Christmas were originally each symbols of icons in Christian Christmas traditions - from 5 - the gold that the wise men brought to 1 - Christ hanging on the cross. This is the first year I've thought about them... and looking back at the last twelve days, I realized that my experiences have helped me see the type of man I want to be... and what I want to avoid. Here are the things I took from each day in the last two weeks... and the traits and characteristics I want to have in my own life.

1st day of Christmas: integrity, loyal, kind... and willing to listen
2: Making a difference, loving, being a dreamer
3: helping people feel involved, loved, a part of the group
4: prayerful, spiritual
5: optimistic
6: patient & courageous
7: peaceful
8: intense
9: committed
10: honest
11: faithful
12: selfless

Someday, hopefully, I'll be all those things. In the meantime, they'll work as new year resolutions, or temporary long-term goals. And they are helping me to find good friends - men who are striving to live according to the same law.

May the Spirit of Christ, as part of Christmas, be with you today and always.

Wednesday, January 5

It Gets Better

Somehow this post disappeared. And there are links to it, so sorry about that...

Will it ever get better? Part of me often wonders if living life as an active member of the Church, going against what my natural man wants and society expects... will ultimately bring me the joy and peace I hope it will. That's the most common question I hear in personal emails and heart-rending accounts. It's the question that drives guys to insanity, to suicide, to depression, to inactivity in the Church, to burn-out zeal. "I've done everything right - went on a mission, graduated, date frequently, served in priesthood leadership, and I've prayed every day since I was 12 to be healed... But it only seems to be getting worse. I just want to die. Is life, or life in the Church, worth it? Will I ever be healed? Will it ever get better?"

So is it worth it? Does it ever get better?

Yes... in the Lord's way.

I want to be normal - like everyone else. He wants me to be like Him. I want to be free of pain. He wants me to be invincible - that nothing could ever hurt me. I want to be loved and be in love. He wants me to love all men completely and unconditionally. I want to live my life in peace. He wants me to live my life as a testimony of His grace. In all the things I ask, He gives me what I need and the strength to do His will... and as I come closer to Him, I grow stronger and gain His perspective, and it gets better.

The attractions (and lack thereof for women), in my case, are still here. The urges and temptations still strike me. The feelings of absolute and total isolation and depression still hit like a ton of bricks, tossing aside my plans and dreams like chaff in a flood. But as I have turned to God and truly had faith in Him, my strength to weather my trials has increased. I can better understand the attractions, fight the temptations, and live through the depression and isolation because I, like the prophets of old, have hope that my life, and the world, can get better, tomorrow.

"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world..." (Ether 12:4).

I may have to pass through pain, sorrow, loneliness, and despair. The world and Heavens may seem stacked against me. But, if I will follow Him, someday the clouds will clear. Someday my dreams will come true. Someday the pain will disappear, surpassed by joy beyond belief. He is in charge, and He knows what He is doing. It gets better.

Deepening Faith: the 11th Day of Christmas

I have some amazing friends who do some pretty cool stuff for the Church. I had a chance to talk with two tonight. They don't work together... But both mentioned recently thinking about core principles in helping others grow... and both had come to the realization I had on Sunday morning - that, in order to help others grow or overcome their trials, we help them deepen their faith in Jesus Christ and develop a greater relationship with God.

I thought it was amazing that both men echoed the same thoughts, across fields, callings, and experiences in life... and amazing that I had heard it twice before. Once on Sunday... and once again just a few days ago. 

I have another good friend who is a General leader in the Church. He's crazy busy, but I visited him this last week and we took time to talk about life in the months since we had seen each other. He talked about his responsibilities, and then we started talking about our shared passion - people, and understanding how to help them grow. As he spoke, I thought about this blog, the struggle I face, and all the issues that surround it. Was there a common theme that I could glean from his experiences working in the councils of the Church? The theme I saw in our conversation was the importance of suiting gospel teaching to the individual... focusing on the good and letting it overshadow and overpower the evil... and how do we accomplish that? By teaching nothing but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance on His name... and allowing the Spirit to give light and speak according to the understanding of those we love.

That is the answer. And it's what helped me to stay alive. When I felt like life was going to end... when depression, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, pain, and everything else were at their height... how did I survive? I placed my faith in God, deepened my commitment to Him, and as my faith grew, it washed over to help ease my pain. That's how reading the scriptures could help me conquer addiction, and how improving my prayers helped with depression. Better quality temple worship made me a better friend... and finding ways to serve my fellow men gave me hope when days were dark with pain. As I focused on improving my faith where I could, it made up the difference and gave me strength to grow in areas once impossible.

And I moved on... and as my faith has grown, my ability to weather the trials of life has increased. Depression that used to incapacitate me for days now opens a door... and I visit family members or find something positive to do. Feelings of attraction for a guy push me to talk to him and see him as a person instead of an object. And questions for God... before sent to the Heavens without seeming responses, are now often answered in the very moment I pray, or, at most, long before I can ask another mortal.

That's the theme behind every email I send, too... and it feels like it is the theme in every mortal life. It's all just finding ways to increase faith most - finding what will have the greatest impact and moving forward there. It's not discounting the problem, but focusing on faith... and allowing the deepening power of faith to flow in and solve the insolvable, fix the unfixable, and explain the unexplainable. Faith is pretty awesome.

Tuesday, January 4

Being Honest with Myself: the 10th Day of Christmas

I used to think that ignoring my struggles in life would make them go away. Sometimes it helps. But, at least in my life, my self-imposed ignorance meant I was never fully able to deal with problems when they arose. 

I've lived with severe depression since I was 16. I've only ever told three people - my mom, my mission president, and one friend. But I don't think any of them believed me... or understood the extent to which it affects my life. No one ever knew. Each day, I could convince myself that I was happy... and if that didn't work, I just told everyone else that I was deep in thought. I threw myself into life and accomplished incredible things... all with the goal of never having unscheduled time where, inevitably, depression would hit again. But my best efforts always seemed to be in vain. Something would be cancelled, life would stop, and I would find myself reading my scriptures, crying, and praying for the strength to live through my pain.

It wasn't until I looked at my life and honestly acknowledged the struggle that I could plan and take steps to face it. As I did, I found a wealth of "resources" for dealing with it. Practicing a musical instrument (even if I'm mediocre), studying the scriptures, going to a public place where I can be around people who know me and will stop to talk with me, going somewhere to meet new people, giving service at the food bank or another place, going to the temple, finding friends and having meaningful conversations long into the night, finding something fun that is also productive and won't make me feel guilty after (I can't play video games - I feel like I'm wasting my life away), writing in my journal or to others, writing poetry, visiting family members (that's what I'll do today! I knew this blog was inspired. :) )... I still fight depression. Today I woke up and found myself crying before even eating breakfast. But I don't feel as hopeless as I did when I was 16. I know that, eventually, the shadows will fade and I'll be able to move forward with my life, and smile, again. And, in the meantime, I'm grateful for the opportunity to rely on God and see His hand in my life.

Living with my attractions has been a similar struggle, though I didn't honestly acknowledge it until after my mission. But since I have, and given my life to God, He has helped me see the light at the end of each crisis. Individual temptations, like depression, eventually go away. They'll come back, but knowing how to cope - whether running 10 miles or biking 20, finding a good friend keep my thoughts busy, going to the temple, taking a walk for a few hours, or even watching people at the mall or somewhere else - helps me to have hope in the midst of what are easily the worst moments of my life.

So I'm honest with myself about my circumstances. But I never give up hope. A friend told me this yesterday: We are the result of our actions. We're not a result of our upbringing, our nature, or our circumstances in life - we're a result of our actions - the choices we make. And that statement brings me hope. Even though I live with depression, I'm an awful friend, and I have the most pathetic, undesirable set of temptations known to man... I am a child of God, striving to keep His commandments and become like Him.

Honestly? I feel better. Life can be so incredibly, suffocatingly awful. I don't think there's any way to explain it. But it's ok. God is there for me; He will take care of me if, by my actions, I choose to follow Him.

Monday, January 3

Finding Direction: the 9th Day of Christmas

With my recent conversations with others about (Gay) Mormon Guy I've wondered about my direction here. I started blogging because, 10 years ago, I wished that I could have found someone - anyone - who was a success story in the making. Not someone who had somehow miraculously "changed" and never had to deal with the issue again, but someone who still lived with it, and never gave up hope. I had never heard of anyone like that. And 6 months ago, when I began blogging, I was one of few who openly and actively raised their voices in unapologetic support of the Church and its teachings. There are dozens of ex-Mormon gay blogs, anti-Mormon gay blogs, and gay Mormon blogs that condone living "your own version of the law of chastity." But what I needed - clear and unapologetic doctrine, hope, and understanding... didn't seem to be available.

I never wanted clinical counseling - it never seemed like a clinical problem. The issue I faced was a choice of will - whether I would give in to temptation or not. Evergreen, NorthStar, and the rest of the unofficial therapy groups that proclaimed their perfection for gay Mormon men and women... never seemed to have what I felt I needed. And other groups (whose names will definitely stay unmentioned) claimed to be for gay Mormons, when in actuality they were as anti-Mormon and pro-promiscuity as possible.

Someday I hope that the need I felt - and the need I am trying to fill with (Gay) Mormon Guy - will find its expression with the strength of the body and within the official channels of the Church... because those are the two things I lack. I can't be a best friend to everyone who needs one. I have a hard time finding and making friends in the first place. And, while I can share my own personal experience and testimony, nothing I say of my own accord is official doctrine of the Church that I love.

I asked yesterday if I should stop blogging here - if it was time to move on with my life - and testimony after testimony bore witness to me of the importance of sharing my witness with the world... trusting in God... and doing my part in the field in which I've been called. The Lord gave me the ability to write, to see His hand in all things, and the strength to conquer my trials each day. All He asks is that I give thanks and share the good news - that peace, happiness, and hope come from living the principles of the gospel and keeping the commandments.

I guess I should have known that He would say that. Press forward with a steadfastness of hope, having a love of God and of all men. At least for now, that's my direction and resolution for the coming year.

Sunday, January 2

"Be Yourself:" the 8th Day of Christmas

A few weeks ago my social life was falling apart. I have never had good friends my age who understand me and stay an active part of my life. I find someone that maybe could fit part of that role, and then they decide to move a thousand miles away, life moves us apart in time and place, or they turn to me one day and tell me to get lost. Don't get me wrong - I have amazing mentors and role models and leaders who will do anything for me - but it's not the same. I've never had friends my age for longer than a few months. And days like today make me wonder if it will ever change.

I met with my priesthood leader today... and I'm torn between wanting to explain the details of our conversation - so you understand his motivation in what he did - and wanting to keep the confidence he indirectly requested. Even though we may never become good friends, and he may never read this post or GMG again, integrity and loyalty are more important to me in relationships (even tenuous ones) than anything else... so I'll just go on.

I've talked with a number of friends recently, trying to identify what it is about me that is so repulsive. I can write something that appeals to hundreds of thousands of people... So what makes those same people, when they begin to get to know me, instantly reject me as an option to be a friend? Most of my recent friends were unwilling to give me any feedback - claiming they didn't know me well enough or that there wasn't anything inherently bad... but finally someone told me: I love people intensely, and most people don't want intense relationships. 

As I look at my life, I understand the truth of that statement. I call or text people every time I think of them. Most people want friends who will call them every so often. I invite people to everything I do - extending the invitation whether or not they will accept. They want people who only invite them to some things. When my friends are sick, I make them soup, put their names on the temple prayer roll, and coordinate with leaders to ensure they receive blessings. Most people want friends who will ask once how they're doing... but won't actively try to understand their needs or their soul. I pray for my friends by name, try to find them the best surprise Christmas presents, attend their concerts and learn their trades. Ultimately, when I find a friend, I open my entire heart and soul to him, and, subconsciously, take the steps to unlock and understand his as well... and because of that, I am intense.

In recent years I've put more and more effort into trying to appear less intense so that people accept me. I've had lists of conversation topics (and blacklists), taken courses on direct and indirect communication, talked with communication experts, logged interventions, and asked the Lord for help. But there has been no appreciable change. I'm thinking, honestly, that I may have Asperger's and simply have a different way of processing relational information.

It was with this understanding, and not really sure what to expect, that I met my bishop again today. He, too, asked me not to blog our conversation... But I will tell you that he had prayerfully prepared... and I will share one piece of inspired counsel he gave that was an answer to years of prayer: when you are trying to find good friends, be yourself.

I had asked him part of the list I made - for help finding good friends - people who wouldn't tell me to change who I was, wouldn't be afraid or discomfited by my intensity, and could actually, maybe, become good friends. He listed off a few names, then turned to me with the familiar look in his eyes of a Priesthood Leader who has received truth from God... and told me to be myself.

Before my mission, I never really had to make relationships work. I had tons of acquaintances and, somehow, found ways to fill my needs, or ignore them, by being busy in my life. But when I entered the MTC I realized that my intensity was the biggest stumbling block in trying to become friends with the people I loved. I began trying to develop social skills... always assuming that, because something in my character was incompatible with others, I had the burden of change. I started by trying to understand exactly what I was "supposed" to be doing in a given friendship and then doing it - making friendship like a dance or a game of cards or a counseling session. And while sometimes I was able to find temporary "friends" that way, they never understood me... and the friendships inevitably failed as I realized that I was tired of the dance and wanted real friends, or they saw beyond the facade and promptly rejected me. No one has ever made the jump from dance-friend in a carefully structured relationship... to true friend who loves and accepts me for who I am... and strives to understand and meet my own needs. No one my age has ever made the jump to true friend at all.

The stark contrast hit me - and I realized that this was my ultimate choice. I could try to love people less and pretend that I don't want to be involved in the intimate details of their lives - perhaps finding more people who will accept a faux me... or I can be true to the intensity that is an integral part of who I am, and with the hope of finding someone who will accept me, risk complete rejection and pain at every turn.

As I write this post, I realize that part of my lot in life is to know what it means to be friendless. Curled up in a ball, crying for peace, the Lord has taught me the importance of turning to Him before anyone else - anyone - and shown me how I can be a friend to those in need even if they can never reciprocate. He has answered my prayers for peace and guidance when no one else could... and I am grateful for the relationship that I have slowly developed with Him. I don't know if I will ever find true best friends. I mean, I believe I'll find a wife someday, and she will be my best friend first... but decades of trying hasn't worked before. How will this run be different from the last time, when I met utter rejection in the face?

Maybe it won't work, and part of my trial is learning how to be honest and true to who I am... even without friends - sort of like staying true to the law of chastity that I covenanted with God to keep in His temple, even when everyone around me tells me I'm a fool.

Either way, I know my direction... and I know that God will take care of me. He does miracles in my behalf, and He will make it right.

Saturday, January 1

New Year's Peace: the 7th Day of Christmas

I woke up this morning to an incredible feeling of peace. For a moment, everything seemed to fall into place and life went into perfect perspective. And while today has been full of things to do, the feeling of peace and complete lack of stress has stayed - softly playing in the background as I respond to emails, run errands, and talk with friends about the rigors of life.

It's a somewhat unique feeling for me. Most of the time I obsess about my life. I'm probably an undiagnosed perfectionist. But right now I don't feel it - no overwhelming urge to clean or be somewhere else or do anything at all... just a feeling of peace beyond explanation.

I know I constantly write my beliefs here, but I thought I would share them again tonight. Tomorrow is fast Sunday, and so this is good practice for testimony meeting.

I know that God exists, and that He is my Father, my Judge, my Friend. He listens to my prayers and answers them... and stands at my side throughout each day. Because of Him, I am alive (in more ways than one...). Because of Him, I know that life is worth living. And I will follow Him forever to the ends of eternity. I know that He sent His Son to live and die for me - to show me the way to return to Him. Christ died and rose from the dead, that I will someday rise perfected in Him - free of mortal pains and trials.

Following God's Plan of Happiness brings me hope, joy, and peace. And someday it will help me to return to Him, saved by His grace. I give thanks to God that He has given His power to men through the Priesthood... and given me strength through sacred covenants and ordinances. I know that Thomas S Monson was called of God to be a prophet and receive revelation on the world's behalf... and that I receive knowledge and doctrine from God as I turn to Him in sincere prayer, willing to change my thoughts, desires, mind, and heart to become the man He sees in me.

There's a lot I still don't know or understand in life. But I know that with God at my side, it will all turn out for the best. He will be on my right and left hand, His angels round about me to bear me up... and He will give me what to say, where to go, what to do, and who to be... in the very moment to accomplish His will.