Sunday, January 19

Grace, Fears, and Dreams Come True

Grace is real.

Both the one that comes from God, and gives us things we could never deserve, and the newest a cappella group in the world.

Tuesday was auditions. I was afraid no one would show up, or no one would want to join my group. But as I listened to dozens of young men and women who wanted a place to sing, my fears changed.

The fear became, "What if I can't get the people I want?" The only negative aspect of holding auditions with the a cappella club is that more senior clubs get first pick on people to choose. (I'd give the pick to the student who's being contested... but I don't have much say in that.) Some of the people I had really liked in the audition got picked up by other groups without my getting a word in. But I still had people, and I felt good about it. And the group director for Attention (the all-girls group on campus) ran after me after we spoke and gave me back the audition sheet for one of the girls I had wanted for Grace. She started Attention last year, and we've been friends since then. I felt hugely grateful. And my fears changed again. 

I sent emails and made phone calls to each group member, afraid that they would all say no. But they didn't. Within two days, I had confirmation from all 8 other group members that they wanted to be part of Grace. And my fears changed again.

We perform every week in Grace... and choose our music based on the audience. But how would that work? Learning music is one thing; finding that much a cappella music in good arrangements is completely another. I'm not an arranger, and after 6 hours of trying to do a mashup of Amazing Grace and the traditional Homeward Bound, I had almost nothing. Would we have nothing to sing? A group member texted me and asked if we needed another guy... because he knew a guy who did arranging and composition. The group leader for Attention called me and told me she had found someone who arranged as well... who wanted an a cappella group. Both accepted, and I felt like we had a chance. And my fears began to dissipate while they changed.

I had sent out a survey to find times convenient for everyone to rehearse. I learned in retrospect that other group leaders chose practice times first, then only invited people who could make it. As results came in, there were no spots the entire week that everyone was free. None at all. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find a time for everyone to meet... and would have to hold partial practices... which would ostracize people from the group. And having people feel left out... that's an awful fear in my world. Knowing not everyone could make it, I scheduled the first rehearsal for yesterday, and the first performance for today.

And then all my fears dissolved.

We found each other and sat in a stairwell, getting to know one another and singing to prepare for our performance tonight. We found times to practice. Helped each other find a beat for beatboxing. Listened and played with melodies and harmonies and rhythms of hymns we love.

And I wasn't afraid anymore.

Yesterday I saw miracle after miracle... the dreams and hopes of 11 people coming true, and the beauty of the power those dreams hold. Of the 12 songs we sang, most turned out great; some we didn't feel... and our last, "Come, Come, Ye Saints" with a tribal chant (and beatboxed rain stick to accompany), was awesome enough that we sang it again to record. And it'll have a spot on our eventual CD.

I don't think I've been this excited... maybe ever. Really. I've never had my hopes this high. Never believed in myself the way that I do today.

You see, I've wanted to be a part of something like Grace for as long as I can remember. But I never felt like I was good enough, or couldn't find groups that fit. And last year I tried to start a group, but before actually trying I stopped because I was afraid. Afraid that I would fail, and, in failing, destroy not only my dreams, but someone else's as well. I mean, who wants a group leader that's autistic? Who can't really understand group dynamics?

So I stopped before even trying.

But this time I felt like I should do it, and I dove in head first. Fliers all around campus. Targeted advertisements on Facebook. Everything I knew how.

And it worked.

The feeling of liberation... of believing in myself... that's what makes this so much more than just a singing group. The gratitude on the group members faces for giving them a chance at their dreams is etched in my mind... and I realize that in the past years I really have learned things that I had never known before. I've learned to understand group dynamics, marketing, people, and communication. Negotiation skills, creating engaging and effective environments, and reaching out to understand individual needs.

All that made Grace possible...
...and it all happened because of grace.

I'm sure that Grace won't be perfect, and my idealization will find hiccups along the way. We'll probably bomb a performance or ten, and drama is a given in music. We may not become the world's best group, and definitely won't see that overnight. And I'm still somewhat afraid of mentioning to my group members that I have autism or that I'm attracted to guys. That'll come as we get to know each other... or as they friend me on Facebook. :)

But this morning, I still find myself overwhelmed and crying (yes, I cry)... because the fears I've held for so long have been proven wrong. Today I'm grateful for both kinds of Grace. They've shown me I can believe in myself. That I can change. That I can hope. And that, behind the everyday of life, God is there, watching and guiding me to the happiness that will follow if I will simply follow Him.

Grace's first performance is tonight at the Orem Rehab and Nursing Center. 7:00 in the north dining hall. We're singing hymns, with our own twist.

And we have a Facebook page that will have future performance schedules.

Sunday, January 12

For the First Time in Forever - Frozen

saw Disney's Frozen last week. It's late enough in the season of films that you've probably already seen it; if not, then you should go. The film broke through the tough outer shell in my heart and hit me hard. Only really poignant things do that.

There's a lot in Frozen that made me sit back in my seat and cry. A lot of things that mirror my own life... and I felt the message kindle sparks of hope that usually lay dormant beneath the thick, cold blanket of realism that keeps me safe.

When I was young, I lived in my own world, and the world was beautiful. Magical. Perfect in every way. I remember believing that I had the perfect childhood when I was 11, and also remember feeling the quiet prompting to enjoy what I had... because it wouldn't last forever.

My world shattered with my teenage years, when depression hit me and turned the world black and made me want to sit in my room and cry... but never tell anyone else. I suddenly had a dire need for friends and people who could understand me, but I had no one... partly because I didn't understand myself, and partly because something in my heart, or my mind, or both, had created an impenetrable wall that left me totally and completely isolated and alone.

So when Elsa sat on her floor, surrounded by ice, crying at her bedroom door, year after year after year, that was me.

Anna's passionately romantic and optimistic worldview reminded me of myself... in the moments when I let myself believe. In my heart of hearts, I still believe in romance, happy endings, and that everyone who is willing to do the right things will find true love.

And yet, it's not enough to just believe. In my case, believing, even opening my heart to believe that life can be awesome and amazing, doesn't give me a superpower to counteract the issues I face. There are real, almost tangible walls that still exist in my relationships when I try as hard as I can. And at the end of the day, my relationships with my family feel stressed, my relationships with friends tenuous and stressful... and God is the only One who really seems to understand me.

If only it was that easy.

As I walked out of the theater, I went to my first therapy session with a new counselor. My goal in therapy? To feel loved in my relationships with others. I can deal with not picking up on social norms or sarcasm or having a somewhat skewed sense or reality because my reality is different.

But this is my dream. Is it possible? Will it ever happen? Can people with autism see improvements in feeling/affect enough to cause significant personal/interpersonal change? Part of me is going through the motions because I feel I should, cold and immune to feeling or hurt. Not believing it will happen, or not. Just doing the right thing because I know it's the right thing to do.But part of me is alive and waiting, on the other side of the door, still believing that for the first time in forever life could become the way I remembered, and always believed, it to be.

Friday, January 10

The World is Dividing

I've never seen so much anger. So much bitterness and persecution and name-calling and hatred...

... as I have with the issue of faith and homosexuality.

People that I thought I knew suddenly turn to vipers ready to attack when the subject comes up, instantly labeling anyone who doesn't agree. Emotions flare and people wage emotional wars, claiming one of the twin banners of equality or divinity... neither of which was ever meant to fly in battle.

Families are divided. Friendships torn. Faith lost.

I've seen people divide on topics in the Church before, at least somewhat. Caffeine was a hot topic until the Brethren stated that there is no stance. The topic of modesty can get some girls angry about their right to wear what they want... or bring up the issue of tights vs pants. The BYU honor code, among BYU students, has ardent lovers and flaunting haters.

But in the most intense brawls about the above topics, I've never seen anything this bad before.

I find myself wondering what else Satan will use to divide us and pull us away from the truth. What else could fracture and "deceive the very elect", like it says in Revelation? Abortion used to be a hot topic... but while emotions on both sides are still raging, they seem subdued compared to those in this battle.

Right now I wonder: how are we going to make it through this? Purified and made better as a people, brought together to meet Christ and pushed to follow Him? Or broken and fractured... with only a few really making it to the wedding feast when He calls? More than anything, I want unity in the Church as a whole again. A place where it is safe to believe because it's what is expected... and where I don't have to wonder what the next person thinks about me.

We can still find that in small places. But in the general fray, it has disappeared. Two separate sides declare their dominance in an increasingly exclusive battle... with sides growing more and more apart. 

Have we lost that forever?

I hope not.

Newfound Love for Church and State

The Supreme Court granted a stay, with no dissenting opinion, on gay marriages in Utah after the ruling judge and appellate court did not, three times in a row.

Then the state of Utah did something really cool. With the law back on the books, they looked at it, tried to determine what it actually meant, and decided to follow it. They didn't just put it on hold. They did what is required by a judicial stay - they treated the law as written.

In this case, it means not only not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but also not recognizing same-sex marriages performed in areas/times where same-sex marriage was legal, like California or Massachusetts or Utah for 17 days. The law states that Utah does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The state didn't invalidate those marriage licenses. A Supreme Court judge will have to rule on that. But in keeping with the law, the state immediately stopped recognizing same-sex marriages, so people who had already filed for joint benefits may have already received them, but all other applications for government recognition have been frozen in time.

That's pretty cool, because it's perfectly what the law and judicial order requires... and Utah is actually doing it. It's cool to me because that position - maintaining the law and acting on it - is a really unpopular one in many eyes, and will probably spark huge debates amongst people (potentially why the attorney general of California refused to support a constitutional amendment and why prop 8 died - one person didn't like it and didn't want to do something potentially unpopular).

So that has rekindled a bit of my faith in government. I thought it had all died.

Then today the Church released a statement about same-sex marriage, extremely clearly stating its position and also encouraging people to stand up for Christian morals and to love others and treat them with civility, even when we disagree. That's pretty cool too. The link is at

All in all, right now I'm pretty happy with what's happening. I think the law will probably have to go through another appeal, since the district court probably doesn't feel comfortable being unpopular, but at the Supreme Court, where the issue becomes a state vs federal rights issue... marriage has always been a state right. When I learned about laws and the difference, marriage was the example they gave as a state-given and state-governed right. I think there are a lot of people who want the state to win in this one, because it is a much bigger issue than just about gay marriage.

Yeah. Just some thoughts. Law is actually sometimes interesting. Who would have thought? I definitely wouldn't. I'm still not sure how I feel about that statement. I promised myself I wouldn't get an MBA and somehow broke that promise. I also promised I wouldn't study law. I'm still okay with that one. :)

Monday, January 6

I Have Bigger Problems

Sometimes I step back from life to look at where I am and where I'm going. I got sick yesterday, and that's usually an opportunity to look at life and think about what really matters... and what doesn't. My thoughts were a bit spacey (since being sick does that to me), but I had some great realizations that will hopefully help in my life.

I also thought about therapy. I'm starting therapy again today with a counselor who was a referral... and I find myself wondering where to even start. I have the normal issues of a 20-something guy with same-sex attraction, but the quality of my everyday is influenced heavily by other... bigger... things. There's autism, which deeply colors my worldview and the way I interact with others by changing the focus my brain places on external stimuli. And there's bipolar, which perpetuates opposites inside my brain and gives me plenty of fuel to disbelieve my own abilities. And then there's whatever else I would have been diagnosed with if I had let a psychiatrist finish their sentences.

I guess I find myself wondering where to even start with all this. I wrote down all the ways that brain issues affect my everyday, along with my long-term goals and what I'm currently doing, but I feel like this will take forever. Trying to figure out how to manage relationships, trying to feel loved, learning to understand nonverbal cues, understanding social expectations and limits...

And, at the root of it all, trying to figure out my life.

I know that the gospel is true. I love being a member of the Church. I'm grateful for the infinite grace of God... and His willingness to let me go through hard things to learn to find happiness. I'm grateful that same-sex attraction has become far less important or centered in my life as time has gone on... to the point that I don't even think about it now, almost ever. That's been nice, so I guess it gives me some breathing room to focus on bigger problems. If I can even solve those.

Life is good. I just wish I could figure it out.

Sunday, January 5

Looking for Hope

The last few weeks have been tumultuous. On my birthday a federal judge ruled that the Utah Constitution was unconstitutional, because it only allowed marriage between a man and a woman. 

Short tangent on that. I was first really shocked, then really frustrated by that ruling. Here? In my home? Who would mount an affront like that?

Getting into debates isn't something I enjoy. They often serve to fire up people who are already passionate, or those who are on the other side. Not a viable way of effecting change. I wanted to do something. But that's just the thing. What can I do?

If it were a business or a person, like when Marriott supported gay marriage legislation or Jeff Bezos gave a gazillion dollars to a PAC focused on it, then I can change something in my everyday to channel my money and support somewhere else. I'm willing to spend more someplace else if the dollars I spend are enabling people to support the causes I support.

But this is a federal court. We already passed a constitutional amendment... and for a while I felt powerless to do anything.

And then I stopped and thought. What's my goal? To help people find peace and happiness and salvation. Does this ruling make it harder to do that? Sort of, but not really - missionary work is the same everywhere, regardless of current social norms... and it follows the same progression.

And then I found my answer. The answer is missionary work. The same as it was yesterday and the day before and since the beginning of time.

But doing missionary work how? I can do missionary work in my own life, but what more can I do?

Giving a couple thousand dollars to Focus on the Family would fuel the public debate over marriage and morals. Giving them to North Star (which just absorbed, sort of, major assets from Evergreen) would build spiritual resources specifically for same-sex attraction. Giving them to the general missionary fund would, at least I hope, enable people to learn the gospel and find the peace and joy I want them to find.

But is that the right thing to do? If I've decided to give up some of my savings to give to a cause, which one do I choose? I'm on the leadership for a North Star, and I know that if I don't give there, they'll still survive and grow. I know my money will be used well by the missionary program, but my own experience as a missionary makes me wonder. I saw missionaries who had no idea how to save money spend all their stipend buying things that weren't necessary. Those would be great place to give, but are they the right places for me right now?

I'm sure the answer will come.

Christmas came and went and I worked 16-hour shifts at a residential treatment center. Family, friends, chaos, stress...

And life is almost back to normal.

Practices for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began this week as well... and at 7 o'clock I found myself looking at the clock and thinking about how life would be different had I made it in. Simpler at least. New choir members don't have to choose music or hold auditions or figure out practice schedules and performance venues. But I'm excited.

Auditions for Grace are in 9 days, and I want to have at least a few pieces chosen out that we can begin to practice off the bat. Amazing Grace will be one of them... the biggest issue right now is finding good a cappella arrangements of pieces. I haven't gotten good enough at arranging to get anything done in time, so I'm just looking.

Tons to do. Post ads in TMA Access at BYU for the audition, put something in the paper (maybe the Provo one, at least the Daily Universe) and on the walls in the HFAC, do some type of advertising through the Facebook event, tell everyone I know about it so they can tell their friends...

All stuff I'm not necessarily good at. But I guess it'll be a good growing experience. Life always is.

I think I'm going to throw myself headlong into this. That's the best way, right? I need music, and the Provo/Orem community definitely has good composers. I think I'll hold a composition contest to get pieces for the group. Set aside a couple hundred dollars for a prize, do some more publicity, and see what comes...?

I have other dreams for Grace as well. I want to do something that moves missionary work along... something that will touch someone and change their life. My biggest dream? Do something for the people in Italy. The Rome temple is being dedicated, probably next year. Music is something that touches people's lives... and since I went to my first temple open house I've had a dream. In the last room, where quiet music is playing and they give you a brownie and a card to fill out to request missionaries, wouldn't it be awesome to take home part of the experience? To pick up a CD of sacred music that had links to learn more about the temple... and could flow from listening to music to listening to the Spirit? I'd love to record a CD of sacred music that could be given away online or at a temple open house... someday.

I know some of the people who work for the temple department. I have connections to people who are coordinating the visitor's center there in Rome. Music is one of the fronts that I think we as a Church could do so much better on - sharing the gospel through music can pass doors that the spoken word can't, soften hearts where no missionary could ever go.

I just had a realization.

I've been wondering how to use my savings to help missionary work - whether to give to the general missionary fund or somewhere else. Grace is all about missionary work. At least I want it to be. It'll take at least some money to get to the point that I want it to be. Usually the Lord asks us to be a steward where and when we can, instead of just giving to others so they can do the work. Maybe this is the next thing He wants me to do.

That makes sense.

I think this is going to be my New Years resolution. Build Grace. Make it into a missionary tool that can touch the lives of people all over the world.

I'm excited. There's a lot to do. :)