Sunday, December 30

New Post on Northern Lights - Born That Way

I just finished a post on Northern Lights. It's been on my mind for a bit, talking about the tension between surrendering, following, building off of, or challenging the circumstances we gain by birth.

The link is here:

Born That Way

Wednesday, December 26

2nd Day of Christmas: Video Games & Laser Tag

This morning, after a family calendaring meeting (you know your family is massive when you have to hold formal planning meetings...), and a few hours of teaching my brother's girlfriend's family about essential oils (that's a mouthful), I grabbed one of my siblings to get them to play a video game with me. My little sister's response was epic. "But I'm not a boy!"

After a some laughing and a bit of persuasion on my part, she acquiesced. A few rounds of Bomberman and two levels of Sonic the Hedgehog later, I offered to teach her how to play Eternal Sonata.

My 10-year-old brother walked in, and I added him to the team, then spent the next little while bringing them up to speed. The game is pretty intense - 4-second turn timers, fast-response button presses with big consequences, lots of things going on at the same time, and more controller dexterity required than in most games. My sister had never held a Playstation controller. And since this is the second play through, everything is about 50% harder than even normal.

As soon as I had explained/walked them through the basics, a friend messaged me with a request for help. I couldn't really pause the game... so I handed my controller to my 10-year-old brother and watched as he and my 12-year-old sister played... and was frankly amazed. They were pretty good.

Now, some background. When I was younger, my siblings would use their allotted time for games watching me play. Really. They were content, somehow, at sitting next to me and watching the game unfold. And this was before the days of multitasking with a smartphone at the same time. Then, when they weren't watching, sometimes they'd come to me during a major battle or whatever and say, "David, can you help me with this? Can you get past this part?" They even went so far as to implore our parents to let me play a few extra minutes over my allowance because they needed me. I was the go-to guy.

So relinquishing a controller to my 10-year-old brother, or even letting him guide overland navigation, was a big thing for me. But it was a good experience... and something in me realizes that I missed a whole lot of teaching moments every time I took the controller / keyboard that was offered to me in the past. The goal isn't beating the game - it's developing people and relationships.

I felt even more vindicated when my brother recounted his day at the dinner table. "And then we played a game with David, and he taught us how to play, and we were awesome."

After dinner, we made the pilgrimage to Seven Peaks / Trafalga in Lehi. My family loves laser tag enough that they have season passes... even though they live in Chicago. Really. My 10-year-old brother's words, "I am going to totally dominate in laser tag." My response: "I don't know... I'm pretty good." "Well, then maybe you'll be on my team. And you can help me dominate."

So cute. Just don't let him corner you in a laser tag arena. ;)

We did dominate. My family was on its own team each round, and we won every round we played. And relished beating groups of college-age guys. Grandpa was a military sharpshooter, and we must have gotten some of those genes.

Laser tag is one of the things that makes me totally forget about life and enter flow in the game. It's amazing.

And this is one of the reasons I love Christmas.

Tuesday, December 25

The First Day of Christmas: Stress

Christmas began today. A 12-day celebration of life that stops modern society at least for a moment. Even Walmart closes on Christmas.

My family drove into town a few days ago, making the 24-hour car pilgrimage from Chicago. Since they arrived, there hasn't been a dull moment.

I love Christmas, and the moments that the family is wholly focused on Christ. Like when we went caroling as a family Sunday night to people in the neighborhood... and for a few moments it felt like my life really fit into place.

But with family also comes stress. Huge amounts of stress. Which is why, while everyone else is doing yet another white elephant gift exchange, I'm sitting quietly on the floor in the corner of the room. After only 12 hours of Christmas, I'm ready to be done.

Somewhere in between a dozen crying kids, someone kicking the beloved family dog and (obviously) angering its owners, having to explain to a dozen incredulous family members what's inside my baked tofu soup, and the overwhelming stress that simply comes from being at a family gathering... sometimes I wish I were far away from family where Christmas would be quiet. But the only time that's ever happened was when I was a missionary, and even then, only once. In a tiny town on the island of Sardegna, where no one in the ward spoke to me or my newly arrived companion... and we just went out to share the gospel.

But this is just the beginning. Ten more days of family gatherings, a dozen conversations happening at the same time, and late nights.

And this is supposed to be vacation. Lol. I love Christmas, but sometimes I wish I were in a stable in Judea, or sitting on a quiet hillside overlooking the city at night. Yes, Christ's birth was heralded by the heavenly host singing Alleluia. But, after everyone left, "Mary kept all of these things in her heart."

I'm sure she was glad for the peace.

Sunday, December 23

All is Well

There are a thousand things that I could be doing right now. My family arrived last night, and spending time with my parents or with younger siblings who are all finally old enough to hold a conversation could last forever. I have emails to write, scriptures to read, people to thank who have been there for us while CJ has been going through chemo.

But I'm sitting quietly in my room, reflecting on a thought I had hours ago that hasn't left me since.

All is well.

It was during the Christmas program for the family ward. We went to Church twice today, and one of the last pieces was called "All is Well." And it made me stop and think.

I've been to a dozen Christmas concerts and musical programs. Planned events. Worried about my own life and the lives of others. Tried to figure out my own plans. Been frustrated at my inadequacies. But, today, I feel like the Spirit of Christmas broke through the festive cheer to speak to my heart and soul.

All is well.

All is well. All is well. Christ has come. All is well. Sing Alleluia. All is well.

I know the truth that prophets have sought for centuries. God has restored His priesthood power to the world. I have the power to choose the right and return to Him someday. And, looking holistically on my life, I've been inordinately blessed. God guides my footsteps and opens doors in my path, answers my prayers when I pray, and has promised me everything if I am faithful.

I may live with trying circumstances, with hope that flares and falters, peace that comes and goes with the external aspects of life. But at the end of the day, Christ has come to save me... and offers me His peace.

I know that Jesus is the Christ. That He has suffered all pains and sorrows so that I can find happiness in my own travails. No matter what I face - the isolation of autism or the despair of depression, the temptations and frustration of same-sex attraction and the normal lot of inadequacies in life - God is there. I know that He has revealed the pathway to happiness... and as long as I am moving down that path, it will all work out in the end.

Have faith. Have hope. Let His love and peace fill your heart and soul.

All is well.

Wednesday, December 19

Happy Birthday

I was born 27 years ago... right as the sun was rising in a hospital in downtown Chicago. Among other things, that meant that my first day was one of the shortest days that year... and the next night, one of the longest.

In the years since, I've made a mess of my life. Swam competitively, then quit when I was getting really good. Danced and sang, but walked off the stage before I got a break. Won and lost academic honors and scholarships, fought addictions and lost to temptations, and broke a dozen girls' hearts trying to figure out my own.

And I wonder if I've really changed all that much from the newborn baby I was. Gotten better.

I can remember a handful of my birthdays. I have videotapes of the first two to augment my memory - spending time up at Telluride with my grandparents and great-grandparents, getting a 6-foot stuffed bear as a present, being with family because it's so close to Christmas. Walking home from school a few years later, it began hailing hard enough that the hailstones cut my ears. Or at least felt like they did. Spending time with family in Ohio, or Utah, in years moving forward. Wanting to die at 16 with a mix of depression, isolation, and recent abuse. At 20, my golden birthday, I was on an island in the Mediterranean, with a companion I was convinced who hated me, waiting for hours while he packed for transfer day, which came early because we had to ride a boat for 19 hours back to Rome. At 22, failing two out of three final exams at BYU that day and hoping that I'd at least pass with a C+ to get credit for my major.

And now 27.

If life had gone as I planned it, today I'd be working in a plant genetics laboratory, married with 3 kids - ages 4, 2, and 1. Gabriel, Rebecca, and David. Tiny home or apartment, with barely enough room for food storage. Totally in love with my wife, my kids, my life... and doing all I can to make a difference in the world.

Instead, I'm single, with no real prospects anywhere close to marriage. I haven't gone on a date in over a month. Still in school, studying business (of all things) and waiting to hear back from Stanford's PhD program. Struggling with the same temptations I did ten years ago, but which have grown stronger. The same depression. The same isolation.

What do I have to show for 27 years of life? A handful of thank-you letters, a list of past accomplishments that proves that I'm "diverse," and a couple of diplomas.

And a relationship with God that is worth all the frustration and pain and anguish I've felt in life... and probably will continue to feel. If I only had that... and in many ways that is all I have that's worthwhile... it would be worth it.

I guess, in 27 years, at least I've moved somewhere. I've learned that God is real and learned to hear His voice and see His hand. I can write decently. I've learned to love people, I've found ways to serve others, and I am slowly improving who I am... slowly overcoming my own imperfections and inadequacies.

Happy Birthday. Only 70 more to go.

Tuesday, December 18

Forgetting the Pain

“I didn’t know books could do that.”

“Do what?”

“Take me away from this place and make me forget who…what I am.”

"We have something in common, you know."


"In the town where I come from, people think I'm odd... So I know how it feels to be... different. And I know how lonely that can be."

Sometimes people ask me how I'm doing. My brother has cancer. I have major depression that sits at the edge of my reality and taunts me. Maybe I make a difference in society, but I'm nowhere near having a family. I still fight the same temptations I did years ago. And I feel totally alone in the world.

Most of the time, I can make the effort to overlook it. Turn on optimism, grit a bit, and have enough faith to let God salve the frustration that is my everyday life. I learn to deal with what life gives me... and, for the most part, I go through with only shadows of what I'm missing. And find ways to appreciate the moment even when it seems impossible. Like right now. I feel awful, but it's probably so that I can write this post for someone who needs it in his/her own life. And that's worth it, right?

It's sort of like being color blind. You know it's happening, and that there's a world of color out there... but does it really change your quality of life if you never see the difference?

I think the problem is that sometimes I do get a glimpse of what life would be like without the depression and autism... and then I just want to curl up in a corner and cry. Like Beast in the quote above, there are some things that have the ability to take me away, and make me forget the things I face each day. And then coming back to them seems an insurmountable task. Am I really in this much pain? How can I live like this? Do I have any other choice? It's like walking in the snow for weeks and finally coming in from the cold to a warm home... then, half an hour later, having to pull on your soaked, freezing clothes to go sleep in the snow yet again. Maybe if you'll never have one in this life, it would be easier if you didn't know fireplaces existed.

And then the questions come back. Most people with autism have a hard time getting married. So do people with same-sex attraction. So do people with bipolar. Mix them all up, and am I ever really going to be good enough to make it over those hurdles? To even make real friends where I can feel the friendship? Do I want to take someone with me on that journey? And is there anyone who would want to go?

Tonight the impetus was a Christmas concert. It was at West Jordan High School... and at one point the choirs sang "There's So Much to Be Thankful For." They also asked us to give what we could to support a local children's hospital. The vision of a thousand people working together, opening their hearts, made me feel for a moment like I was part of something greater... but ten minutes later it was gone.

That's how it always is. The things that can make me forget - really forget the woes and frustrations of life - are always too good to be true. They work for a few hours, and give me a glimpse of what life should be. What I'm striving for, and the reason why I'm pushing to change the world.

But at the end of the concert, at the end of the book, when the music is over or the credits begin to roll, I still go home. Perhaps surrounded by family and friends, perhaps with a dozen heartfelt thank-you letters in my email box. But those don't change the fact that, even surrounded by people who love and support and accept me, I still feel totally alone.

So I usually find myself just crying as I try to figure out my life again. Or writing. Or both.

I wonder if it will ever go away. Or if this - a feeling of being alone... whether from the autism/ssa/bipolar mixture or something else - is just one of the things I'll always have in life. I hope that someday it will.

But if not, I think I'll be okay. While coming back to reality is painful, being able to see in color every once in a while - to understand what God has in store and taste that for a moment - is enough to keep moving one day at a time toward the light.

Monday, December 17

It Makes Me Happy. What?

It's almost universally accepted that the core motivation behind every human choice is a desire for happiness. From proposing to your beloved to choosing which tie to wear when you really don't care, everything is about maximizing perceived happiness. You drink a branded soda. Why? Because the brand brings back feelings of your family. Why is that important? Because you love your family. Why is that important? Because they make you happy. Follow every action backwards, and you find happiness at the core. The tie example - you feel like it's not worth taking time to make a decision because you can spend your time doing something else that will make you happy.

But what does that even mean?

What is happiness?

You'd think that in the eons of existence, mankind would be able to accurately determine what happiness is in someone's life, and also have a reliable, repeatable way of measuring that happiness. I mean, if every single human endeavor is designed to maximize happiness, wouldn't it make sense to have a way to measure the efficacy of those actions? Then, you could ostensibly create a roadmap that can help the rest of the human race find this all-important gift.

The modern world is an epic fail when it comes to determining happiness. Good scientific tests use external, instead of internal, reference points. An example is hair color - the most useful, accurate determination of hair color isn't whether it's lighter or darker than your skin. It's a comparison with other hair colors in the world. Hence, the classification of blond, black, brown, red - which are shared by others - instead of the classification of one, two, or three shades darker than skin.

Happiness is measured, in most environments and in most research studies that I've read, using a method that's really similar to pain. No external reference point, and simple Likert testing. The most common test is the smiley face test. On the far left is a frowning face. On the right is a smiling one. Point at the one that describes you.

There are some major assumptions in Likert testing for happiness or pain. It assumes that the person using the test is 1: able to determine what level of happiness/pain accurately matches the points on the scale, and 2: able to accurately determine his own level of happiness or pain.

With pain, some of the issues are mediated by the fact that we "know," culturally, what types of things are supposedly the most painful. Like getting appendicitis. Or breaking your femur. Or bleeding from every pore. But while getting appendicitis was painful... was it really the most painful thing in the world? Really? I probably believe, if I'm a rational person, that I'm not experiencing the most painful thing ever to imagine in the world, and probably haven't ever experienced it. So I choose a number that's high enough to communicate the urgency of the situation and forget about the problem of determining what pain really is.

With happiness, there are even bigger problems. People can't isolate happiness or really explain it well. And when you're happy, sometimes you honestly think that you're the happiest person in the world. But what does that mean? And is someone who wins the lottery or a girl that gets a new toy really on the same plane of happiness as someone who is watching her daughter's wedding? And how about the people who are convinced that they're happy... but who really aren't? What about them? Are we all just engaged in a set of mind games trying to convince ourselves of happiness?

The issue with Likert testing is that it doesn't have an external scale... and so I'm forced to put the girl with a new toy and the delusional person on the same level. In reality, I think the main issue at stake is the definition of happiness - a realization that happiness comes in different forms and different levels. And even if I've hit the happiest I've been in life, there's probably something better.

Christ said in the scriptures, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you." Along the same line, God is often mentioned as having what the scriptures call "a fulness of joy." The scriptures use the words peace and joy similarly to how we use happiness today - as the end-all goal for life's existence - but also in far different contexts. This quote is striking, because it speaks of multiple kinds of peace - at least one that the world can give, and one that Christ can offer. I'll submit that, unless I really understand all the levels and types of happiness/peace/joy available to me in life, I will probably shortchange myself by seeking after happiness... but a happiness that really won't bring me the level/type of happiness that I want.

So what is happiness/peace/joy?

I'll submit that the best sources of happiness/peace/joy will be the ones that give me the ability to feel the greatest amount of happiness, for the longest period of time, and that are inexhaustible and consistently marginally positive (which means that there is not an easily defined upper limit to the happiness it can provide, and that, instead of shrinking over time - like the happiness that comes from eating one more piece of chocolate cake - there is no limit to how much joy it can provide in my life).

To begin, part of happiness is definitely what happens in my mind. We all know people who go through the exact same experience and, because of their outlook on life, have dramatically different experiences. In an extreme case, one is happy, and learns from the experience, and the other is bitter and feels like he's been robbed. And since the difference between those two people can stem from multiple facets, it makes sense that happiness does as well.

Sometimes happiness is a chemical issue - I know that I struggle to feel happiness when I feel deep depression... and so happiness is somewhat chemical. But the happiness that comes from a drug high is chemical as well. And that happiness is artificial, addicting, and has ruined countless lives. In retrospect, it doesn't look like happiness. So the answer isn't just chemistry.

It's not just physical, either. The height of physical happiness is usually put in sexual or culinary terms. But while sexual activity may bring intense pleasure, there are plenty of examples of sexual encounters that have caused intense unhappiness - abuse being the foremost among them. And eating twelve chocolate cakes (or twelve anythings) may taste good, but then makes me (especially me) feel awful. And the thirteenth doesn't really sound all that appealing.

It's not just emotional... but I think that we're getting closer here. People who have a depth of emotional maturity, the ability to see far into the future, and find good things in their lives seem to definitely be happier than others... but the other facets may or may not be in place for that to happen.

It's not just financial. There are people I met in the poorest areas of Italy who were happier than some of the richest people I've met in America.

It's not just academic. I've met professors who spent their entire lives trying to understand the mysteries of the universe and, at least from my perspective, appeared miserable.

It's not just popularity. Celebrities are a good place to look here - and while the media is always trying to find stories of pain and woe, the reality is that there are happy and unhappy people on the silver screen just like there are people off of it.

It's not just geographic or weather-related. There are happy and unhappy people in Chicago, just like there are happy and unhappy people in California.

It's not just based on finding the job that I want, or marrying the person that I want, or completing my bucket list... because that happiness doesn't always last. There are millions who will attest to the fact that happily ever after isn't always (or even often) true.

And, sometimes, it looks like happiness isn't even based on what my actions are. I can try to be a truly good and upright person and undergo intense trials and suffering in life... or someone who lives life as it comes, how I want, and seem to be happy. Spouses having affairs find pleasure in their sexual experiences. Other people find respite in eating junk food. Kids enjoy burning ants, even with the smell of burning flesh that rises from the sidewalk. Doing drugs would make me high. Stealing money would make me rich. Making fun of would make me popular.

So if what I do isn't connected to happiness, does what I do even matter?

Inside of me, I believe that what I do can lead me to happiness. That my choices and actions will lead me one way or the other. That's the core belief that motivates me to action - and the belief that motivates all human endeavor. So the question, instead, needs to be this: what is the happiness I'm looking for... and what do I need to do to get there?

The reality is that when I talk about true happiness, unless I want to get into heated arguments and go nowhere, I have to talk about something different from what I can find on the street in my everyday. Something different from the Hershey's variety of happiness, or even the gold-foil-wrapped kind that they sell at Macy's. Because if I rely on human interpretations of happiness, even those of good-intentioned people like my parents or experts, I'll always rely on something deeply flawed. Something that may not work for everyone, may run out, and might only serve to distract me along the road. I'll run after visions and dreams only to potentially find that they led me nowhere... and eventually trade in my romantic hopes for something more somber, and far less motivating, in life. No. When I talk about happiness, and begin my own search for it, I need to sort out everything that is physical, experiential, carnal, sensual, external, or has any potential downside. Everything that has an excess, or that maxes out in mortal terms.

When I talk about real happiness, I need to stop talking about pleasure or satisfaction, and start talking about something divine - something that people can sometimes taste in this life, but never really understand or experience until they've spent a lifetime learning how.

That happiness comes from three places.

The first is from what I do. There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of the world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And happiness is one of those blessings. True happiness comes from being good - hence why God would create His Plan of Salvation and outline commandments... to help me see the pathway that will build my happiness with each step. The Plan is universal - in that there are commandments that apply universally to all mankind - and also personal - and if I turn to God He will give additional light to help me guide my path. The better I am as a person, the greater my true happiness. Choosing to do the right thing will always lead to greater happiness than any other alternative.

The second is from what I believe and understand. In what I've seen in people, this is often far more difficult to understand than actions. God gives commandments over actions that are easy to follow. But His commandments that apply to beliefs and thoughts are far more difficult. Not stealing from my neighbor? Easy to measure. But truly loving everyone in the world? Or being willing to give up all things for God? Or having faith that, even if I can't see the ram in the thicket, God will intervene and bring me happiness when the future looks bleak? What about when I really, really, really want to fall in love, have a spouse, and raise children in the gospel, and I'm single, attracted to guys instead of girls, and turning 27 this Thursday? This is usually where I break down and, with a flawed set of beliefs, I mistakenly believe that I've done my best with just my actions... haven't found the happiness I deserve, and hence something is wrong with the cosmos. In most cases, I just need to change my beliefs. Give up my fears and failings and demands, and be willing to let God guide me and give me the peace I so desperately want... but that He couldn't give until I made room by giving up what filled up my heart.

The third comes from God when the first two are aligned - as He changes me, inspires me, forgives me, and enables me to feel greater and greater levels of happiness by revealing steps along the pathway that will lead me there. The reality is that true happiness isn't something I'll attain in this life. It's a pathway. Anything that I could reach in life isn't good enough, because I want something that will grow into the eternities. And because it's a pathway, happiness will grow as I learn and apply light and truth along the path. As my actions and my beliefs align with God's.

There are thousands of sources for pleasure, satisfaction, and any other fleeting feeling. But in the quest for true and lasting happiness - the stuff that makes life worthwhile, meaningful, and awesome even if you never feel anything else - the questions are simple: Do I really understand my place in God's plan? Am I moving down the path that will change me into who I need to be? What's the next step?

Sunday, December 16

Be an Influence for Good

Since I've shared who I am here on (Gay) Mormon Guy, I've wondered what my place is here in the gay / Mormon community. For the last few years, I've tried to make (Gay) Mormon Guy be everything to everyone. A place to find a friend for people who want someone to talk to. A reliable, understandable (albeit unofficial) source of doctrine. A place to feel the Spirit. Explanations on what it's like in my life to live with same-gender attraction. Help with coping with depression and temptations.

But the world is changing. I used to think I needed to be everything to everyone, because it was so hard to find the pieces all put together. But with the changing world, the landscape of the world of LDS members with same-sex attraction is dramatically different from where it was when I started writing two-and-a-half years ago.

Northern Lights, the blogging group for North Star, has started up again, with stories from men and women all over the world. The Voices of Hope project is building a repository of 1000 stories of valiant faith and homosexuality. The Church launched a new site Mormons and Gays that organizes the doctrine of the Church and has the power of apostles speaking personally to the subject. And dozens of new personal blogs have been written - each sharing what it's like to live and love the gospel with same-gender attraction.

Part of me wants to believe that it's time for me to just disappear from this world. Except for one thing: I was just prompted to share who I am with the world. If God had expected me to disappear, He wouldn't have had me post about it on Facebook. There's no turning back now.

So I find myself wondering who I'm supposed to be. What I'm supposed to be doing. Where I should focus my efforts. Should I join the ranks of groups like USGA? The leadership team of North Star? Go out and write about experiential things like Journey into Manhood or whatever else? Organize outreach firesides? Just continue writing?

They're all good things. But which ones are best for me and my life?

I've taken the question to the temple, tried to figure out where I should go, and wondered more than anything. I feel like the Lord has specific goals for me. Specific things He wants me to do. I just need to figure them out and do them.

Then this week someone asked me to teach Elder's Quorum. Lesson 24 from the George Albert Smith manual... and in that lesson I found the answer to my prayer.

"Make your influence felt."

In those words are all the answers I've needed. I can be an influence for good, and do something to lift the world and make a difference in the lives of people around me. And it also holds a confirmation that God has a work for me to do... the promise that He is involved in my life... and will make it happen.

Friday, December 14

Pushed Beyond Pain: Shootings, Suicide, Giving Up on Life

There was a school shooting today, in Newtown, Connecticut.
Kindergarteners. First graders. Teachers. 20 children gone. My youngest brothers are 7 and 10, and I have family and cousins all over the country. It could have been in any of their schools. Someone posted a tweet that talked about unopened Christmas presents, and the tears started flowing. I don't have kids of my own, but I'm a teacher. I've sat in classrooms and looked at my kids in the rows of desks or tables... and know how deep that love can be.

My heart goes out to the families, loved ones, and community members there. Losing a family member or friend is... such a personal thing that no words can really describe it. It's a mixture of pain and frustration and shattered dreams, anger and guilt and despair, all mixed into a package of overwhelming reality. What do you do? How can you get up the next morning and make sales calls? How can you fill a hole that no one else can?

There are two parts to this story. When we mourn the loss of the righteous, of the faithful, or of the innocent, we are mourning for ourselves - for our losses and our dreams, our hopes and our quiet conversations. As we come to grips with the love of God, we can know that He is taking care of them... and that through the Atonement all things will be made right.

But when we mourn those who have turned away from light, we are mourning their loss of hope and peace along with our own. And, at least in my case, the mourning feels more real.

In this case, it's the story of a 24-year-old boy who gave up on life and acted out in one last moment of pain. Somehow he believed that he could never find happiness in this life.

And I wonder.

I wonder if he had friends. People he could talk to - not just who listened to him, but helped him find his soul. Not just friends to indulge or echo his thoughts, but who pushed him to be better each passing day, no matter what.

I wonder if he had enemies. People who, from the superficial nature of their lives, were oblivious to what lay beneath the surface. People who said one thing and did another. Who told the rest of the world how much he wasn't worth... with hopes that he would hear it.

I wonder if he had someone who could walk him through his trials and thoughts. If he had someone that he could call in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day, and tell anything and everything without being turned away or accounted less loved.

I wonder who he was. What he loved to do. What happened to begin his pathway towards death. And what I, or someone else, can do to avert this type of disaster in the future.

The reality is that things like this happen far too often. Perhaps not on this scale, involving the deaths of dozens of children, but it's not hard to find less violent but still real evidences that people have been pushed beyond pain.

On a social level, people explode in anger and do things that they would never do in a rational state. Domestic violence, workplace arguments, and bitter disagreements between family or friends exist around the globe.

On a spiritual level, it's even more apparent. Some people who feel stressed spiritually - and are unable to find reconciliation within their faith - leave their beliefs behind but turn against anyone who remains. The few lasting negative responses I've had from people who learn about my life, my loves, my passions, my trials, my blog... have been almost exclusively ex-Mormons. Some lived seemingly happy lives in the gospel, and then something changed. Slowly, quickly, sometimes a bit of both. But in the end, something convinced them that if they can't find happiness in the gospel, no one can.

There's something wrong with our society. Suicide passed car crashes this year as the number 1 cause of mortality from injury in the US, and other industrialized nations are seeing similar results, even with the fact that some suicides are never recorded as suicide. The rate is climbing. Faithful people are losing their testimonies and losing the light and hope in their eyes. Families and friends are losing touch as workplaces, schools, and homes become a more sterile, "safer" place to interact. And today a 24-year-old man destroyed his own life, and the lives of children, because he was pushed beyond pain.

My hope is that I can do my part to change the world back. To help people feel loved even when they look like they don't need it... or even when they say they don't. To push people to find hope and faith in God even when it seems like He hasn't been listening... and when His followers may have said or done horrendous things in the past. And to help people work through the pain that life will inevitably bring.

All of us will be eventually be pushed up against the edge of our ability. And then we'll all be pushed beyond. That's part of mortality and the test that is life. The question then is this: What will I do when I'm pushed beyond pain? Will I turn to God? Will I draw closer to my family? Will I lift the human race? Will I reach out and serve those who need my help?

Or will I give up on life?

Monday, December 10

Finals Schedule for Tuesday

5:30 - wake up to prep food for the Organizational Behavior Student Association (OBSA) Christmas party.

6:55 - set up the slow cookers in the MBA Lounge to finish 12 hours later.

7:00 - get to my first final. Brand management. Cram 60 slides because I haven't had time to study yet.

9:00 - meet with a professor to prepare for the review session I'm hosting for 1st year operations.

11:00 - another final. I'm not totally sure what I need to prepare for this one. I think I'm supposed to write a 5-page essay.

12:00 - host review session for operations. Expect about 120 people, and go over the entire course in 2 hours. 30 minutes of buffer time for questions.

2:30 - meet with partner to prepare an hour-and-a-half long presentation for Wednesday.

5:00 - final class for a class that (thankfully) doesn't have a final. I need to finish reading a book before then. I don't know where the book is.

6:30 - OBSA Christmas party. I'm in charge of bringing food for the vegans/vegetarians.

When we remake the educational paradigm, can we demolish finals? Please?

Sunday, December 9

It's a Small World

I'm the ward music chairman in my ward, which means that at least once a year the bishop steps off the stand after the Sacrament and turns the time over to me. Of all the occasions, the Christmas program is by far the most exhausting.

Part of it is because I insist on not stressing about it until just a few weeks before. Which then means that during finals week and Thanksgiving I'm pulling together numbers and practicing with the choir, assigning talks and trying to determine length.

This year was no different. I organized a few numbers with the choir, arranged some solos and duets, and asked a handful of ward members to give short talks. All the pieces were ready, but as Sacrament meeting started I still had no idea how much content we had.

As we began, I noticed that one of the speakers had five pages of notes for his talk. I had told everyone else to speak for 2-3 minutes. But I didn't say anything. I knew that what he had to say was important, even if it meant we would go over. When he got up and began speaking, I realized why.

I had given everyone the topic of how Christ had influenced their lives. All the speakers today spoke about how they had gone through times of darkness and found light in following Christ. But this guy spoke about it from the context of same-gender attraction.

At first I felt sort of jealous. Somewhere deep inside, I wanted to be able to broach this topic with my ward and help them understand it. I mean, I just shared who I was with the world, and there are still a number of ward members (those not on Facebook) who don't know. But as I listened, and compared his story to the others I've heard recently, I realized that his was a far more compelling story to share.

It seems that the most striking stories are the ones of people who have seen both sides of the coin - the men and women who have lived on both sides of the line and will tell you honestly that God's side is better. That's why Ty Mansfield's story is so compelling - because he could say, on camera, " I started dating - guys..." Why Laurie Campbell's story is so striking. And why the talk today in the Christmas program was perfect for my ward.

It made me wonder. I wanted my ward to understand same-sex attraction. I've wanted to ask my bishop if I could speak or teach on the subject. I know he would let me. And in the meeting that I organized, it happened, in a way that was better than I could have planned myself.

The program went 12 minutes late. And we have Sacrament meeting last. But, different from most meetings, only one person left before the closing prayer. I turned to talk with him after the prayer and invited him to the North Star fireside tonight.

It's a small world. And the Lord really does answer prayers. It's just crazy that His answers are almost always in ways that are different from what I originally envisioned.

Friday, December 7

USGA (Understanding Same-Gender Attraction) Group Meeting: Testimonies of Christ

Last night was my first USGA meeting.

USGA, which stands for Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, is unaffiliated with BYU but often meets in campus classrooms.

I had heard about USGA twice before I went last night - there was the student panel where the room applauded someone who planned to find a partner after graduating from BYU, and the It Gets Better videos.

Both times the group sounded more controversial than I really wanted to see.

So when I went, I wasn't really sure what to expect. It was promoted as a "Testimony of Christ" meeting. I walked in around 7:05 and the room - a lecture hall in the law building - had about 70 people already inside. Mostly men, with a smattering of women here and there. I knew a few people from the recent conference on Same-Gender Attraction, but no one else.

After fifteen minutes of business (this is the last meeting of the year, future meetings might be held off of BYU campus for space and other needs), the testimony part started. And there wasn't really much that was questionable. The meeting itself was a lot like a testimony meeting. Lots of different people who got up and shared their personal testimony of Christ, and the only evidence that we weren't at a Thursday EFY session were the comments like, "I don't know if Christ is a metaphysical presence or a great teacher..."

It was interesting, though. I felt like many of the people there were just watching, listening. Only a few of us got up to share. I shared part of it on Twitter and was probably the only person doing so. But that's normal with any testimony meeting. :)

The interesting part was the post-meeting discussions.

I'm awkward when it comes to unstructured social environments. And the end of a meeting where I know no one is definitely unstructured. A couple people asked me who I was, and I just shared my name. I don't know if people there read my blog... but I got the feeling that most of them didn't.

At one point someone picked up a conversation with the guy who had run the meeting and expressed some of his concerns about meetings in the past. The response was telling. At least from what I gathered, USGA is designed to make people feel comfortable who are not currently finding the answers to their questions in the Church. By focusing on the secular side of the equation, and avoiding the spiritual discussions that predominate places like here at (Gay) Mormon Guy, USGA appeals to people whose lives match the same frame. At the same time, it sounded like people who are deeply religious have been turned off by the admittedly non-religious (which is by definition anti-Mormon or gay-affirmative) bent of the group on nights that aren't testimony meetings.

At one point the leader shared that he understood the concern. The wording he used was "we try to involve everyone, but we see more of the LGBTQ than the SSA." That struck me... because it was the first time that I had ever heard of people within the community making a linguistic distinction between people and how they deal with homosexuality instead of the types of feelings they face.

I have mixed feelings about the approach. Some people think that in order to appeal to everyone, you have to go the non-religious or non-denominational route. But, in doing so, you're often doing the exact same thing as choosing one religion and endorsing it. You're just endorsing humanism, or another belief system that views religions as personal endeavors instead of core principles of human existence. The thought came to me that Christ met and ate with sinners, but always taught exactly the truth - and only the truth. And I found myself wondering how it would be possible to create a group that was honestly just as inclusive as USGA was trying to be, but that could meet the spiritual needs of group members through helping everyone come closer to Christ on their own paths.

On the current pathway, it doesn't look like USGA will be meeting any of my personal spiritual needs. But at the same time, it was obvious that this was a place where people who wanted to find acceptance and belonging could find it. And where I can help people find and feel the peace I've found in the gospel. Multiple people who bore their testimonies didn't have same-gender attraction and weren't there with friends... they had just heard that USGA was a place where they could find people who would love and accept them no matter what.

I guess I have mixed feelings about my participation and what is going to happen going forward. Part of me just wants to watch. Part of me feels like I should jump in and do what I can. Part of me wants to create something else that can really meet the spiritual needs that people have - something like the Matis firesides that disappeared and could be more open to the public at large. And part says to just do everything and see what sticks.

Either way, I think I'll be going back.

Thursday, December 6

Woah! Official Church Site On Mormons and Gays!

This just happened.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just launched an official site talking specifically and exclusively about same-gender attraction and its interaction with Church doctrine, culture, and teachings.

The site includes videos from Church leaders and others who describe how to find hope and faith through living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read it, share it with all your friends.

This is epic.

Links to news articles discussing the site:

Deseret News (includes quotes from official LDS spokesman Michael Purdy and LGBTQ community leaders):

Official LDS Newsroom:

Tuesday, December 4

Saving Grace

Most of the guys I've talked to who have same-sex attraction tell me that they've been approached in person by other guys. Whether in the gym, at the mall, on the beach, or in gay bars (um... that's sort of awkward. I don't suggest going to gay bars), they've had the experience.

I never have.

And I guess I find myself wondering about it. Maybe it's happened, but I don't pick up on it? Or maybe something else is happening?

On the first - that maybe it's happening but I'm blithely unaware - I think applying what I've learned from girls and their signals may be informative.

When I first started dating, I was clueless to girls' signals. I couldn't tell if a girl was flirting or being nice or being sarcastically mean. Really. They were all the same to me. The first girl I asked out after my mission, in fact, had already given up on catching my attention. She had already gone through finding a friend who spoke Italian to teach her basic greetings, sitting next to and behind me at every meeting, complimenting me on my voice and my comments in Sunday School, talking with me at ward prayer... in her mind she was pulling out all the stops. I remember those happening, but I also remember not thinking anything about it. I only asked her out because I prayed for inspiration on who I should ask out, looked at the ward directory, and thought I should ask her.

Since then, I've gotten at least a little bit better at determining when a girl is interested. Girls have told me which things are sure signs, and now I can watch for them. But it still has to be pretty obvious for me to catch on. Like if she's staring at me for an entire hour, or comes to talk with me a dozen times in a day. Or if she asks me out.

I wonder if, because I'm less able to pick up on the nuanced dance of social interactions, I suffer in my ability to understand what girls or guys intend. And since most potentially romantic approaches are nuanced instead of brazen, it just doesn't show up on my radar. What makes it hard to pick up on girls' flirting becomes a saving grace when I also can't pick up on guys. I could totally see that happening. Or not see it. ;)

Another potential modifier in the world of pick-up lines would be my conversation style. I pick up conversations with anyone. And, almost without exception, the conversation eventually turns to the gospel. I'd assume that most guys thinking about approaching another guy aren't also thinking about the gospel. And engaging in a conversation on the gospel might be a deterrent.

And then there's the fact that I don't smile much. I forget to. So I look awfully serious almost all the time. Maybe that's a major deterrent.

Whatever the reason - ugliness, social awkwardness and a somber face, a propensity for gospel conversations, or just never being around guys like that - I've never had it happen.

Interesting. And nice.


Monday, December 3

Nighttime Blues

I can feel it beginning to happen. It's the feeling that comes right as my brain is about to switch. Switch from normal, and ok, to totally not ok, withdrawn, and depressed.

Part of me is screaming that I need to go to the gym. Right now. And exercise until my mind promises to switch back. I know it works. Something keeps the switch from happening, and the crisis is resolved.

But I have class in the morning at 6:00, a presentation in the afternoon, and more homework than I could ever imagine. I'm running low on sleep in the first place. It's already after 9:00 at night. And the exercise doesn't work unless I go and work out for hours. So part of my brain is just telling me to go to sleep and maybe it won't happen. Maybe the feeling is wrong and I'm not going to switch. Or at least I can wait until tomorrow to work out. I could go to my 6:00 class and then go work out for a few more hours.

But the other side is still shouting. "Can't you see? Can't you see the deferral of time, the slow loss of desire, the withdrawal when you left the ward Christmas party early... are all major signs that it's happening? You need to do something fast before this ruins the last week of school."

I'm tired. But being depressed is way worse than being tired. And once the switch has happened, it's way harder to make it go back.

I guess I'm going to work out tonight.

Sunday, December 2


I love Christmas. Except for being swamped with final projects and the inevitable stress that comes with being in charge of music somewhere. Maybe someday I'll just be able to be a performer/choir member everywhere in my life, but it hasn't happened yet. And school ends in just a few days. No matter what happens, at least it will be over.

Today after church Jessie and I were trying to find a good version of "The First Noel" for our ward Christmas program next week and to sing at a fireside or two. This is the one we decided on.

I know that Christ lives. That He leads and guides the Church. And that, because of His life, death, and resurrection, we can find peace, happiness, and hope in the gospel no matter what we face.


(The usual recording caveats: the iPhone I recorded on was at a better distance this time, and we ran through it twice before recording, but there's still no touch up. Ever since a kid named Erwin in 6th grade told me he hated hearing my voice, I've been uber-critical of anything that comes out of my mouth. I'm trying to get over that. Just don't hate me when I go ten cents flat.)