Monday, November 23


It happens all the time. The conversation turns direction, and someone says, "That's not right. That's wrong."

What does it mean for something to be wrong?

Sometimes being wrong means being imprecise - whether the statement lacks information or makes gross assumptions that aren't valid. When I took advanced Newtonian Mechanics, I learned that pretty much *everything* I had ever learned about physics before had been wrong. While the equations were good at approximating some very simple situations, at the core they were wrong because they approximated almost none of reality. Useful, but wrong.

Sometimes wrong is simple inaccuracy. Like when I use the wrong word, and have the undeniable urge to fix it, or when I close my eyes and type on my phone, then go back and edit the words that I inevitably misspelled. Or let the phone automatically edit for me. Or fix the esoteric words that my phone doesn't know and autocorrected into nonsense.

Sometimes wrong is contextually inappropriate - like when I wear the wrong color to match my skin tone or my pants and shirt don't go together. Or when I say something that makes people feel uncomfortable because it's awkward. Or when I talk waaaaaaay too much even after I've realized that I should have stopped talking... and then realize after the fact that I had been talking even more than I realized before. 

Sometimes wrong is applicable to someone in particular because they are an exception. Like when I expect someone to react and think in one way, except that they don't.

Sometimes wrong happens because people and circumstances change. Assuming that someone is always a liar may be accurate, until they've repented and become a new person.

Sometimes wrong is a personal or social judgment of unfair, immoral, or unethical treatment.

And sometimes wrong is wrong because God has revealed that it ultimately leads away from Him... and toward unhappiness.

There are a million opportunities to be right or wrong each day. To do the right or wrong thing. To drive the speed limit or not, wear the right clothes or not, say the right things or not.

In countless of those opportunities, I find myself failing every single day. I rarely say the right thing, and often say the wrong one. In social situations, I look like a totally normal person, but in reality I'm far more like an elephant in a china shop, who is trying to carefully pick up and polish each piece. With extreme care, I can do it. But ask me to do anything more, I become someone who inevitably smashes far more plates than anyone could have ever thought possible.

It's also easy to be wrong. To know the wrong things, and even to believe the wrong things. Most sources of information - popular, social, medical, scientific, humanistic, artistic, philosophical, interpersonal, and through the senses - are awfully imprecise and easily tricked, manipulated, or simply misinterpreted. 

The only sense and form of communication that can really convey truth is the Spirit of Truth - the Holy Ghost, who testified of truth and burns it into my heart beyond question.

Hence my thoughts tonight.

I'm ok with making mistakes - being temporarily wrong - in most of life's decisions. Wearing the wrong clothes might make me feel silly or out of place (if I notice), or make other people wonder, but it's unlikely to make a big difference in my happiness. And not knowing the actual equations for air resistance when I try to calculate the velocity of a waterfall really doesn't make a difference.

But I'm not ok with being wrong on other things. I need to be right - and whether that means sticking to my guns regardless of circumstance or changing my outlook, that's a necessity in my book.

The most important one to me is knowing what God believes. From my perspective, God's judgment on right and wrong aren't really judgmental in the most commonly used form of the word. Does sinning bring down justice? Yes. But God prescribes and proscribes actions and beliefs because He loves me and wants me to be happy... not because He wants me to suffer.

Some of the big things that are right in my life, and lead to happiness: the law of chastity, service to others, faith and patience, and the love of God.

Some of the things that lead to unhappiness: same-sex sexual relations, selfishness, pride, impatience or entitled-ness, and being unwilling to listen to God.

I realize that the world is moving deeper and deeper towards unhappiness. People are becoming more entitled, more unfaithful, more unwilling to follow God's commandments no matter what the sacrifices requires... So I wanted to share my testimony that life isn't about momentary fulfillment. It's not about being right... but about doing the right thing, regardless of the cost. 

Following God will always bring greater lasting happiness than any other alternative. I've had to make huge changes in my life to follow God. I've had to change who I was, and let God reform me in His refiner's fire. And I am a witness that it works. I still have a long way to go, but the gospel does truly work. For everyone.

And that's at least one thing that I know with absolute certainty that is right. God Himself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, burned it deep into my soul. And it continues to burn as He teaches me what is right.

Sunday, November 22

(Not) Dating: Post-Public Era

When I felt prompted to switch (G)MG from total anonymity to public a few years ago, I honestly felt like it would make dating and friendships easier. Being attracted to guys, and moreso not being attracted to the girls I went on dates with, was previously a huge issue that never came up in actual conversation.

Except once. But that was before I learned that you're not supposed to tell a girl that you're not attracted to her. Even if she asks. Before you impose all sorts of socially prescribed judgment on me, remember that I am autistic. Normal people somehow learn stuff without ever actually being told, but I had to have a girl sit me down and tell me everything socially wrong with the way I dated. Which was a totally socially awkward situation for her.

But that's beside the point.

My assumption was that when I told the world about (Gay) Mormon Guy, it would make it far easier to know who to ask on dates and who wanted to be my friend. Guys and girls alike would know from the outset that I had issues... and simply, anyone who met my previous criteria, and still met them after knowing about (G)MG, was someone I'd try to befriend.

Except the criteria, in retrospect, is anything but simple.

Since I'm not attracted to women at all currently, and I have no desire for sexual intimacy with guys, my own personal feelings don't really matter. My "simple" mental hurdles aligned with finding someone who was (1) aware of the things I juggled in life, (2) interested in spending time with me, and (3) close enough physically/socially that a relationship could work (e-relationships and distance relationships haven't really worked for me).

Simply put, I try to ensure that people are aware of (G)MG and that I'm on the spectrum. Then, if a week passes and I notice that someone is making an effort to be a part of my life, then I'll try to make it work.

On the surface, that seemed just fine to me.

Except that, being autistic, I don't pick up on most nonverbal cues. So a girl could be shouting nonverbally and I'd be clueless. And a potentially romantic relationship with someone with same-sex attraction isn't really an easy-to-understand issue that can be reconciled like different eating habits. Most straight guys my age already have friends, or they assume I have friends. And almost no one really understands developing a relationship - of any type - with someone on the autistic spectrum.

So the number of girls who asked me out or who I got readable signals from dropped dramatically. To almost zero. And the number of people who wanted to be close friends stayed close to there.

But a much bigger impact was that in the moment that I shared my blog with the world, part of me... changed? Gave up? Got scared? I used to get promptings to befriend people - I didn't just rely on trying to read their emotions. And even though few relationships worked out, the time I spent with people helped me learn about society and the world. 

Back then, I didn't feel like I had to come clean in the first sentence and say, "I'm not attracted to you (whether you're a girl or a guy). I carry a ton of baggage, but I want to make friends and you seem like a nice person."

Now I feel obligated to share that.

Maybe I shouldn't. Most people don't show signals that indicate their problems, and many take months or years to open up.


But then there's the reality of my history. My brain tells me that friendships are really hard to build and to grow they take a lot of effort from me and especially the other person. Is it fair to try to befriend people when being my close friend summons inexorable chaos into their lives? And if chaos from friendship is rough, dating is even worse.

I don't know.

My best friend is convinced that if I make other friends, date, fall in love, or get married, that I'll stop being his friend. He's seen a lot of people leave their friends completely when they fall in love, or when they make new friends. The mere mention of dating, by anyone, in any circumstance, has caused rifts between us. He doesn't date at all - a girl would have to ask him out to start the process, and even then he might say no. It takes a ton of effort to make our friendship work for both of us. 

But he gave me his support to reach out and make more friends - and inherent in his support is the acknowledgement that our relationship is secure enough that we can both focus some of our energy into building others. I had never needed his permission, but it's nice to be able to talk about my plans without jeopardizing the friendship.

Now I'm just facing one question. 

Is it worth trying?

Friday, November 20

Changing Directions

It was my freshman year of college.

A few weeks before classes opened for registration, I had a powerful prompting: I was supposed to be an ambassador.

I signed up for Hebrew, Arabic, Middle Eastern Studies, and American Sign Language. My goal was to work for the State Department in Israel and other war-torn areas, trying to help people find peace in their lives.

My parents, interestingly, were supportive of my goal. And the first week of classes was a blast. Arabic and Hebrew are strikingly similar, so I could apply the little things  I learned in one class in the other.

The day after the add deadline for classes, I got another prompting, this one just as strong as the first: I was definitely not supposed to be an ambassador.

So I dropped Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, leaving myself with the lightest credit load of my college tenure.

I still don't know why I got those changes in direction.

A few years later, I had another circuitous set of promptings. First, I felt prompted to go against education department rules and take an art class during my student teaching. Then I felt like enrolling in the classes at the BYU Salt Lake Center. Then to live in Salt Lake during the week so I could attend. Then to enroll just as an audit course. Then to drop the course. Then to attend Institute instead. Then to join the Institute choir.

By the end, I had purchased three different sets of art supplies, paid for a new ID card, begged an instructor to let me audit his course only to drop it two days later, convinced family to let me live with them, and broken half a dozen BYU policies.

The Institute choir I joined performed in General Conference, and during one of the Institute classes I attended, I routinely received powerful guidance for my life (totally unrelated to what was taught, but whatever). That was the end goal of all the changes in direction... and it was definitely worth it.

If God had tried to tell me what to do from the beginning, I probably wouldn't have been able to understand. That said, I'm glad what happened, happened.

A few years later, I was walking on the campus of Stanford University. I was there to learn about their PhD in Learning Sciences, the most compelling program I had found to date and one that made me feel absolutely awesome inside. My experience at Stanford was nothing less than stunning. Everything seemed to shout at me that I was going the right way, and that all the cards were in my favor. The admissions committee director told me that my application was extremely impressive, and current students were sure I'd get in. I had flown out to be there, meet people, and attend the one in-person info session available. I fell in love with the grounds of the campus and met people there who I hadn't seen in years... and had some great learning, growing, and teaching opportunities with people I knew and had never before met.

When I returned at hit the phone interview stage, I found myself talking with my chosen mentor, who honestly sounded like he was trying to convince me that Stanford wasn't the right place for me. He talked about how his current graduates would have been better served by getting an MBA - the degree I already had. Halfway through the phone call, I had the strange feeling that nothing I said was going to make a difference. He had been prompted to deny me admission, and the interview wasn't really to determine my fit... but more of a search on his part to try to understand a prompting he couldn't disobey. My rejection a few weeks later wasn't a surprise. But it was definitely a huge change in direction from the passionate, fiery course I had set just a few weeks earlier. Maybe the entire push for Stanford was so that I could talk with one person on campus that day. Who knows?

Not long after, I tried out for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I pulled all the strings I had and recorded my audition CD, studied for the exams, and finally auditioned in person. It all felt right, and the hours of preparation and study was a thrill feeling like I would get in. Every step I got back feedback that I was doing awesome. But when the final letter came, the simple reason was yet again the same - MoTab wasn't right for me. It didn't match my vocal style. And yet again, I felt peace. It had been the right direction, but MoTab wasn't the right destination. There were still changes to make. Trying out for MoTab and doing so well - in every step of the audition - gave me the courage and confidence to start my own a cappella group - Grace - just a few months later. I think Grace was the reason I had started that journey.

Fast forward to today. A year ago I emptied my personal bank account and started a new business called The Soap Factory. My store is in a great area - blocks from BYU - but a terrible location. The store has been growing like wildfire. We're one of the top rated attractions in Provo on Trip Advisor, and people come from all over the world after Googling "Things to do in Provo." Our current lease ended in October, and the landlord decided to take advantage of our growing success to raise our lease rates by over 30%. So we started looking for a new location, and found one that felt perfect. It's just across the street from the new Provo City Center Temple, on Center Street, and it had the perfect layout for us. Massive main floor, and a huge basement, at a great price. We felt like it was the right thing, so we submitted an intent to lease the same day. We expected to hear back within a week, since the intent to lease required us to not pursuing other locations until negotiations had finished. We pushed and pulled, met with the owner and submitted financial data, and all the while got no response. Days turned into weeks, and we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place as our current landlord wants an answer and we committed to not look for other locations or negotiate other leases. It seemed like good news was on the way... Then today we finally learned what happened when we went to the location for their last event of the year. The listing agent had encouraged the owner to sign a lease with Sub Zero Ice Cream... because "they have more money"... and she had already done so.

I'm sure that the peace and confirmation and hope will come eventually. Right now, though, I feel burned and frustrated and confused. I spent the last month waiting, hoping, working, jumping through hoops and sending in lists of potential improvements and finances and paperwork... and nothing came from it. Of course my newly-founded startup business isn't going to have as much money as a corporate franchise with 49 locations. They've been around for 11 years, and I've been around for 1. I didn't even get the feeling that they would have told us about the resolution of the deal had we not asked so many times. But isn't our success enough proof? I had a total of 10 minutes to cry in the back room tonight before we had so many customers that my best friend couldn't take care of them all.

I know that changing directions is an important thing. God uses situations like this to help me to get to destinations that I never would have imagined... and I'm grateful for the absolute knowledge that everything will work out. It will be for the best. The world isn't ending, and this, more than anything is proof of it, because God is actively involved in my life.

But, in the moment, sometimes it just feels like hitting a brick wall.

Sunday, November 15


I can see.

I've been wearing glasses that weren't mine for a long time. I knew they were the wrong prescription, but that was just how life was. I ripped my last contact lens years ago, and I didn't feel like I had enough money to buy new ones. I found a pair of glasses in my room and couldn't figure out whose they were. I tried wearing them and people told me they liked them. And they worked well enough that I didn't have to worry.

But I have to get a new driver's license, and I was afraid that I'd fail the vision test... so I got an exam and a new sample pair of contact lenses, fully intending to wear them for the exam and nothing else.

But then I put them in.

There are billions of things to look at in the world. Intricate details of sculpture, perfection in art, flowers and bugs and shapes and textures. Sunsets and clouds, raindrops and snowflakes. Chunks of broken asphalt, fields of boulders, and brilliantly cut gemstones.

Of all the things in the world, I watch leaves.

The leaves are changing here in Utah. Red and green and gold swept across the trees in broad swathes, touching some and drenching others. Thousands upon thousands on trees and sidewalks, crunching under your feet on the sidewalk, and everywhere falling - falling and swirling in great heaps with each gust of wind, only to rise and fall yet again.

I could watch leaves for hours.


I hadn't been able to see for so long. What had happened? I remember feeling the same way about leaves when I got my first pair of contact lenses, and yet just last week I couldn't see leaves unless they were in front of me, let alone count them on trees.

Leaves hadn't made me get new contact lenses or glasses. Being able to see the sunsets reflected as burning fires in the trees, while compelling, hadn't been compelling enough to pull me into focus and invest the couple dollars it would take to have perfect vision.

No. While I love watching leaves, it wasn't the leaves that made me go back and send my glasses in for new lenses.

It was people.

As much as I love watching leaves, sunsets, and listening to the rain, there's a deeper draw to people.

I'm not normal. I'm on the autism spectrum and therapy, books, classes, effort, prayers, blessings, diet, and graduate degrees haven't changed that. I don't understand people through normal pathways. Sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek remarks, and even sometimes obvious nonverbal communiques are totally lost on me.

I've learned to listen for slight variances in intonation in people's voices to help me guess if they're still interested in the conversation or just talking to be nice. I watch for a hundred different signs that someone is being sincere or is trying to communicate something other than what they're saying.

And when I talk to people, I've found the best way to see into their heart is to watch their eyes.

Maybe that sounds strange to look at people's eyes when they talk. I don't know. Whatever. But the first conversation I had after putting in contact lenses - with my best friend - I realized how much I had been missing. We still don't understand each other, but I felt like I was at least a step closer.

A paragraph in my Patriarchal Blessing tells me that as I look into people's eyes, I'll be able to know their feelings and what I can say or do to help them come closer to Christ.

How had I forgotten that I needed to be able to see, in order to look? Why had I stopped caring about being able to see?

The eye place had quoted me $30 to replace my lenses. So I went back, handed a tech my glasses (she's in my ward - something I hadn't noticed before), and paid for it to happen.

And I've worn contact lenses for the last few days.

I've seen trees, sunsets, smiles, and snow.

And now I think I know the real reason why I stopped.

The sudden increase in visual information has been overwhelming for me. In addition, I lost my voice a few days ago. Whatever the reason, the last few days I've felt like I was just watching life. Engaged, doing the same things, even taking charge, but watching rather than being. As the days went on, the constant flow of emotions and busy-ness inside me grew silent, and then went completely still.

It's a feeling I know well. It's the in-between place that used to come between bipolar cycles, just before depression hit or life took off. I don't have bipolar anymore, but the in-between is unique enough that I could never forget it.

Back when I was bipolar, the in-between was the best place to look at my life and really get perspective on who I was and what was important. Some of my best writing came from the in-between, often because I could see more clearly. And without the chaos of emotions, my mind and heart were easier to turn to God.

It's been a long time since I was here.

I spent all day at Church today watching, and then I realized something. Something I had come close to forgetting. Something part of me didn't even want to put into words. The reason why I'm so busy, so involved, so engaged, and why, to dull the pain, I didn't care that I couldn't see.

I'm an outsider.

I've tried to explain what it means to be an outsider to people before. I don't know if it ever worked.

Being an outsider means that, when I let myself feel, I feel alone... no matter where I am or who is with me.

It doesn't matter that people know who I am in my ward, or that my bishop loves me.

It doesn't matter that people smile and laugh and post happy pictures on Instagram when they come to The Soap Factory.

It doesn't matter that I live and work with family who loves me and that I live and work with them for the express purpose of improving our relationships.

It doesn't matter that my best friend has put in long hours trying to understand me and be there for me, or that he has forgiven me for all the things that I do wrong.

It doesn't matter that half a million people have read my most recent blog posts or that my email inbox is full.

After everything in my life - after all the things I've done, after all the effort I put into making people feel important and loved and valuable, after praying and fasting and dieting and everything else...

I still feel alone.

Promises and sayings that I've heard all my life mock me. Try your hardest, and you'll succeed. Don't wait for someone to be your friend - be a friend instead. And the worst: People who feel alone are that way because they're not willing to put in the effort. If you feel alone, it's your fault.

It has nothing to do with same-sex attraction. If you think I need to abandon my morals, leave God and His Church, and have sex with men to feel loved, you can go jump in a frozen lake. I feel just as alone when I'm talking with a cute guy as I do sitting at my computer desk.


So I've remembered.

I got the right prescription and turned off my voice, and now I've seen through the complicated mess meant to keep me occupied... and I remember that I'm an outsider.

Now what?

It isn't news to me. Without the complications of busy-ness to cloud my memories, I see pretty clearly. The reason why I began shaking people's hands at Church and listening to their stories was because I felt alone inside. The reason why I started The Soap Factory was because I wanted to create a place where people could smile and do something productive and get away from the mess of life - it's what I wish I had. I started my a cappella group because I wanted people to have fun and feel loved. I started (Gay) Mormon Guy because I wanted to help people feel understood.

Everything I've started stemmed from being an outsider. I had incredible pain. And I knew I couldn't get rid of it... so instead of focusing inward on myself, I focused outward and tried to make sure that no one ever felt the way I did.

And, for once, the distraction worked. Without depression and the in-between to wake me up, life has just moved forward, and over time part of me forgot why I worked 10, 12, 14 hours each day and then scheduled my free time to the brim.

It took new contacts, and losing my voice, to wake me up.

The realization at Church made me cry for about a minute, but emotions don't really help here. I've cried a ton about being alone, watched therapists cry when I tried to explain it, and I'm through with all the crying.

Is that healthy? Do I turn off my emotions as a coping strategy when faced with something I can't handle, or do I actually benefit from being able to sequester and process them separately? I think the latter is true, but I don't really have a way to be sure. I used to cry a lot. Whatever.

So what is it going to change? What am I going to change?

I think that I've been holding back recently because I thought that maybe I could still find a way to feel like I belong. I've been trying to fit in. And I think I honestly believed that if I tried hard enough, this time I could make it work. This time I'd find someplace here where I belong.

I know that probably won't happen in this life. 

The only One who has ever completely gotten through to me was God. My family and best friend do a lot for me. But God is the One who picks me up when I'm broken, who carries me when I can't walk, and who helps me see clearly when everything is hazy. With God, I can feel like I belong. 

Another memory. Now I remember the *real* reason why I reach out to people.

In my darkest hour, when I felt most alone and unloved, and wanted life to be over, I asked God to help me. I asked Him to help me feel His love. He told me to love others - to do everything I could to touch and heal and teach and share and lift and bless the people around me - and that if I did that, He would help me feel His love. I made the promise that I would, and He promised me that I would be ok.

The 15 years since haven't been easy. Sometimes I let my vision cloud and I forget who I am. Sometimes I find myself wishing for a different life - one where I could be like everyone else or where life could be simple. And sometimes I forget to turn to God... and I feel alone.

Is it fair? Is it worth it? Imagine going through life knowing that you may never, ever truly feel like you belong, no matter how hard you try or how hard other people try to make it happen. A handful of people told me the other day that they were going to kill themselves before they read (G)MG, and that while reading my blog post they changed their minds. If I had to go through rough life experiences to help them stay alive, was it worth it? Yeah.

That's the irony in my life, and the thing that makes me laugh through it all. God knows me perfectly... and He knows that there's only one thing I long for more than to be loved and understood. The one reason why I'm willing to put up with *anything* He throws at me. I'd do anything to help someone who needs it.

Two hours ago I realized I was alone, and cried. Right now, my tears are dry and I feel awesome. Life is good, and I have a dozen things planned to make it even better - a dozen ways to improve life for the people around me.

I'm glad I got new contacts. I was pretty blind before. But now I see. Not just the physical reality, and the messed-up reality of my life, but the hand of God in all of it. Thanks, Father, for reminding me. Of why I'm here, of what I'm supposed to be doing, and of who I am. 

For the brief moment of mortality, I may be an outsider. But for forever, I am Yours.

Monday, November 9

Dear Little Brother (to children with same-sex parents)

When I was little, my parents were my heroes. To me, they were perfect. Yes, they tried to make me eat broccoli and carrots, and I hated having to practice the piano... but my parents were mine. They were the ones who cared for me when I was sick, held me when I was afraid, and prayed with me when I didn't even know how.

I knew that my family was different. My parents' choices were different from anyone else I knew... and I was different... so sometimes that meant I got bullied. Other kids wouldn't talk to me, I didn't have many friends, and people sometimes called me names or told me they simply didn't want to be near me.

My family and personal situation is such that I stuck out even at Church meetings. Everyone knew who I was, which was both good and bad. The worst part was feeling isolated, even though I tried my best to do what was right. There were a couple of kids my age in my ward, but I felt alone and different even when I was with them. The group did their best to include me, but I was different. Don't get me wrong - I laughed, cried, told stories, and spent time with people outside of Church. But I still felt totally alone sometimes.

But feeling isolated actually made my decisions easier. I always went to mutual activities and seminary, but only rarely because I wanted to talk to someone. I hated Church dances, yet somehow I got assigned to plan dances. I still went, not to dance (I stood outside the room because I can't handle loud music), but because I felt it was the right thing to do, and I believed that doing the right thing would help me be a better person.

All that was ok, because I had my family.

But eventually, even a great family isn't enough.

By the time I was a teenager, I was already facing addiction. I was depressed and wanted to die. I still felt like I had no friends. And while I knew that my family loved me, it was hard to feel it. I was facing personal trials that my parents couldn't just talk me through anymore. There wasn't a medicine to make me better, and even when they did their best I still hurt inside.

It was then that I really learned about God. I wanted Him in my life. I took the time to read the scriptures, and I sometimes prayed for hours or fasted for longer than I should have because I needed a response. I needed to know the right things to do, and what God wanted in my life.

One night I finally felt God's love for me. I found peace in a story from the Bible. King David had a great early life, but then he made an awful decision. He murdered a man so he could take his wife. And then he spent the rest of his life believing he would never get to Heaven. 

Unlike most of the people in the Bible who had turned against God, though, David chose to still follow Him. He spent the rest of his life praising God, writing the Psalms, and trying to be a better person.

David didn't do it because he thought his acts would save him. He didn't think think they would.

He praised God because it was the right thing to do - because God is worthy to praise... and the One we should always follow. David knew that following God was right, even if he never got the blessings that he wanted so much.

My name is David, too... and that made this story feel closer to me. I felt like I had somewhat been like King David. While I knew that God loved me, with all the obstacles in my life I honestly believed that I would never get to Heaven. In my mind, I was just born into a situation where I couldn't be saved. The Atonement applied to everyone but me.

But if King David could make the decision to follow God even though he believed that it would never be enough, and the result was the Psalms and a life full of beauty and goodness... then I could do the same, right? Even if I never made it to Heaven, I could still serve God. That's what brought me peace.

I left home when I was 17 to go to college. It wasn't until I left home that I realized how different my family (and hence the way I perceived the world) really was. When I lived with my parents, everything seemed normal to me, and anyone who tried to tell me otherwise was mistaken. Living with other people helped me realize that my family was anything but normal.

Leaving home has given me perspective. There are things that I admire about my parents, and things I don't. Things that I want to do in my life if I'm ever a dad, along with things I don't want to do. 

And I've realized that my testimony, and my choices and activity in the Church, are my own. When I wanted to serve a mission, it was because I wanted it. I started my papers, and I saved money to serve. And when the mission call came to my dorm room, I opened it alone, then called my family to tell them. My temple endowment was my own decision, and so is my temple recommend today. While my family did their part to help me along the right path, it eventually became my part to choose. I'm grateful for them, but mostly I'm grateful for God. I still don't know if I'll be good enough to get to Heaven, but I'm trying my best and getting better... and, for now, that's good enough for me.

If your situation is like mine was, you might feel alone or lost. You might feel alone at Church, at school, maybe even at the dinner table or extended family gatherings. Even if your family holds family prayer, scripture study, family home evening, and attends Church, eventually that won't be enough for your testimony. Your parents might teach you about the gospel, and they might not. Either way, life will get hard one day (or maybe it already is), and you'll have to make your own decisions, and learn about God yourself so that you can serve Him the best you can.

Don't lose hope. Even if there are obstacles in the way, God can be there. 

That's not to say it won't be hard. 

If you live primarily with parents who are or have been in a sexually active same-sex relationship or same-sex marriage, you won't be able to be baptized at 8 years old. And, as much as you and I wish otherwise, we can't control the choices of our parents. You probably won't feel comfortable asking them if they have been sexually active. You probably already know if they're married. If they're not, a good idea is to determine if they are best friends or partners. If they're just best friends living together, and not partners, you can get baptized whenever you want, even if one parent is your dad and he and your mom are divorced. That said, while it's possible, it's not very likely that they are just best friends.

You may or may not have support from your parents to attend Church, read your scriptures, hold family prayer and home evening, and the rest of the things that usually come with Church membership. If you do decide to attend Church and even if you do everything right, you'll have to wait while other people around you are getting things you probably want more than they do. Without being baptized, you'll have to wait to get a Patriarchal blessing, to receive the priesthood if you're a boy, and to attend the temple and do baptisms for the dead. You also won't hold any major callings, though you can still be assigned to organize Church dances. :/

That will likely be one of the most difficult aspects of your life.

When you're old enough to legally make your own decisions without input from your parents, to be baptized you'll have to move out of their home and show that you believe that sexual cohabitation and same-sex marriage is wrong. You won't have to turn away from your parents entirely, just the sexual aspect of their relationship. That could be really hard, considering that you just grew up with same-sex parents... and they'll be your parents for the rest of your life.

Regardless, like I did, you'll probably find that there are things you admire about your parents, and things you don't. 

And if you decide that you support God's definition of the family through the Church... and no longer support the sexual portion of the relationship of your parents, then you can join the membership through baptism, get a Patriarchal blessing, go on a mission and tell everyone about eternal families, and then (in this life or the next) find your own spouse to be married in the temple for forever.

Is it fair? Is it fair to be born in a situation where you have no control?

Fairness is something you'll probably grapple with in your life. I know I did. How could God really be fair if some children were born to starve in Africa and others were born on the side of the street and others were born into happy, loving families? Was it fair to be born with physical or mental or social disabilities that would make life excruciatingly painful for as long as you lived? How could a perfect God bless one innocent child with everything, while essentially cursing another just a few doors away?

In your case, there are lots of questions of fairness. Was your upbringing, birth, early childhood, school, Church, and everything else fair? Is it fair for you to have to wait an extra 10 years, leave your home, and denounce part of your family's relationship to be baptized?

It took me a long time to come to grips with how God really sees our circumstances in life. He would love to be able to bless us. But He loves us too much to make life easy. So He adds in things that are hard. Things designed to honestly make us question who we are. And sometimes things that seem totally and completely unfair, with the hope that we will trust Him, believe Him, and commit to following His commandments no matter what. Abraham was promised infinite posterity through his son Isaac. Then he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain. A dead son can't get married or have children... so Abraham didn't know how God would keep His promises. But he chose to believe anyway... and because he found that strength and faith deep inside him, God could bless him with everything. An easier life doesn't mean a happier life.

That's not to say that everyone should have the same trials and blessings. Don't mix up equality (where everyone has the exact same life circumstances) with fairness (where everyone has exactly what they need). God chooses the best circumstances for each of us that will push us beyond our limit... and, because of that, everyone's life is different. Ironically, that's how life is fair - because it's individual. Follow God, and everything will always be ok. He will never let anything happen to you that could destroy your soul - on the contrary, He'll come up with some of the most creative ways to always show you He is there and to push you to become the person He sees in you.

I would be far less today if God had just taken away the obstacles in my life. I'm grateful for the crazy, seemingly unfair, and often absurd circumstances that life has thrown at me, along with the lessons I've learned from them. And you'll find, if you stick close to Him, that the same is true for you.

May God be with you, little brother. I'm here for you if you need a friend to talk to.


A good link:
A post written by a Mormon woman raised by same-sex parents

Sunday, November 8

God Knows What He's Doing

"If you could switch lives with anyone, who would you choose and why?"

I'm not sure where the question came from. It could have been one of those deep get-to-know-you games that come with a box of cards filled with questions (I have an OCD-like tendency to read the text of every card in a game even if I don't plan to play it) or a copy of Reader's Digest that sat around my parents' home.

Whatever the source, the answer has always been "no one." My life has always been mine alone, because God is in charge. And He knows what He's doing.

As a kid, my life was total bliss. I wouldn't have changed it for anything. I had an awesome family, freedom, a love of all things written, and a double dose of crazy imagination. Schoenbeck was the only really busy street I had to cross to get to the library, and before I was 10 I had convinced the librarians to let me check out books without a chaperone... and fill my Radio Flyer red wagon (the one with the wooden boards you put on the sides) with 50 books at a time to take home to read after school. Summers were even better. I could lie on our trampoline with an entire book series sprawled around me and no one would ever interrupt me for food or chores or anything. And if I wasn't done reading when the sun went down, I'd hide under the covers with a flashlight until I was. We had a huge tree in my front yard that had a hole in the side that was always full of sawdust and sap. I'd mix them together with water, call it glue, then hide it and forget about it for months. I tried dozens of times to grow roses from bouquets. Every time my mom got flowers I'd wait as long as I could (2 days), then take them to the basement, cut off the flower (or not, depending on the most current method), dip them in a solution made by boiling willow twigs taken from my neighbors yard, then carefully place them in soil inside a 2-liter terrarium or plastic bag. The stems always rotted, but that was ok. I always believed it would work the next time... because that's how life was.

I didn't have many friends, and even fewer close to my age. But I didn't feel alone. I was happy. The closest person to me outside my family was also my babysitter. She lent me books, and indulged my overactive imagination for hours on end. I didn't need anything else. If someone had asked me if I wanted to trade lives, I would have laughed. My life was perfect. 

But at 10 years old I had an experience. My brain trashes a lot of important information, but this is still there. I was standing on our back patio, and the realization hit me that my life was too good to be true. Life isn't meant to be perfect. It's not meant to be easy. Breezing through classes, starring on the swim team, always knowing the right answers... yes, my life was awesome. But it was too good. Life is meant to be hard, right? Mine wasn't. And then came the thought. "Enjoy it," it said, "because life won't always be this easy."

I think that was God warning me that my perfect bliss was soon to end.

It was only a few years later that I encountered addiction. My voracious appetite for learning and discovering new things had taken me down all sorts of exciting roads, and one day it took me too far. I don't remember how it started, but it did, and I found myself fighting with something so strong I didn't know how to handle it. And since I had never needed anyone before, it didn't even occur to me to ask for help. I fought and pushed and struggled... and then my brain decided to push me off the edge. Overactive neurotransmitters began constant bipolar cycles of highs and lows. During the lows, I closed off from everyone, curled up in my bed, cried constantly, and prayed for God to kill me in my sleep. I assumed it was normal. People have good days and bad days. I just wanted to die on my bad days. But I kept trying. I finally gained control of my life, pulled myself up and, for a brief moment, felt free once again... and then I was sexually abused. My foundation crumbled, addiction came back stronger than ever, and life itself fell apart. To make matters even worse, I then realized that I had no friends, and suddenly had an insatiable need to have them... but every attempt to find them met with disaster. I felt completely and utterly alone.

At this point, I again honestly would not have traded my life with anyone. Not because I didn't want another life. On the contrary, I found myself wishing I had been born in any other possible circumstance. I could rarely sleep at night anyway, and when I did, I had dreams about how blissful other people's lives would be, and how deeply I wanted my own to end. The reason I wouldn't trade my life is because I wouldn't have wished my life on my worst enemy. Not that I really had any. It's hard to make enemies when you can't have more than a single informal conversation with someone.

It was during this time - the vortex of turmoil and emotion and the mess of everything happening in my brain - that I came to know God. The turning point was getting my patriarchal blessing. Among other things I didn't understand, it assured me that I would live a long life. Not really the answer I had wanted to my prayers for an early death... but it was an answer nonetheless. So, one night, I stopped asking for God to kill me in my sleep. Instead, I prayed for help finding hope in life. 

And it started to rain.

Rain is symbolic to me. It would take a dozen pages to explain what it really means, and then I still wouldn't be happy. I tried writing and deleted it. So I'll stay simple: for me, rain is a symbol of God's love.

So when from clear skies it began to rain, thunder, and lightning that night as I prayed, that was God again, this time telling me that it would all work out.

It didn't happen overnight. It took me years to pull myself from addiction, and even after my mission I found myself staring it again in the face. I still didn't have any friends... and even when people tried to be my friends it didn't work. I found myself unable to function every time depression hit, and although I thought I was completely normal, something kept telling me that there was something that I didn't completely understand.

But today, with the understanding I do have, I again wouldn't trade my life for anything. It's not because my life is perfect. Far from it - I'm still autistic, and God still has plenty of challenges in store for me. It's also not because I wouldn't wish it on anyone. If someone honestly needed the things I've learned in my life, I'd be ok with God allowing them to have my exact same experience.

No. I wouldn't trade my life for anything because of the things I've learned and the person I've become.

Some days I wonder how my life would have been if things had gone differently. If I had been diagnosed with autism as a kid, maybe someone would have taught me social skills and friendship sooner. But perhaps I wouldn't have relied so heavily on God when bipolar and same-sex attraction came to play. Without autism entirely, perhaps I'd have made friends, but I would have been more acutely aware of the bullying that happened at school... and perhaps the pain would have given me cause to be bitter. And maybe I wouldn't have had the self-control to cure myself of bipolar through extreme diet. Without being abused, I wouldn't carry deep emotional scars... but I also wouldn't have been able to touch people's lives who have been through the same experience. Without bipolar in my early years, I would have cried far fewer tears, but I wouldn't have had cause to turn to God, and I wouldn't have the relationship with Him that I do... and so perhaps it would cloud my judgment with all the rest. Without same-sex attraction, I'd be married with a family by now... but I'd lack most of my understanding of the love of God, and I definitely wouldn't feel compelled to reach out and share the gospel with others, or value the importance of good friends. 

The circumstances that God allowed in my life have given me the opportunity to shape who I am. I feel like my life is an example of the perfect confluence of God's Plan of Salvation. For me, the greatest opportunity my life's circumstances allowed was the option to give everything - especially my deepest hopes and dreams - to God. I could choose God, trust in Him, believe Him, and follow Him forever, or turn away from Him and make my own path. God pushed me up against the wall and forced me to choose... just as He does for everyone. And for that I'm eternally grateful. If He asks me to celibate for life (and that's what the law of chastity requires unless I miraculously fall in love with and marry a girl), then that's what will happen. Following God and keeping His commandments is always better than any other alternative.

God knows what He is doing. From His perspective, I believe there is no difference between trials and blessings. Not to say that He doesn't prefer one to the other - all things equal, God likes to bless His children. But, in His eyes, both trials and blessings are simply parts of the Plan. Like ingredients in a recipe. Some recipes call for more salt, some for more sugar, all depending on the initial reagent, things that happen during cooking, and the intended final result. It may not seem fair to me that my life is full of salty while my neighbor's is full of sweet, but to God it all makes sense. He knows the end from the beginning, and everything in my life is intended to help me return to Him. Soup is salty. Candy is sweet. And my neighbor came to earth a completely different person, with completely different needs, when compared to me. Every circumstance is valid, as long as God sees it useful to help His children return to Him. The circumstances of my life are my Gift from God. The choices I make with those circumstances are my Gift to Him. It took a mixture of bipolar, autism, same-sex attraction, and even abuse, specific parents, climate, and everything else to give me the experiences I needed. And I believe that He takes the same degree of care in choosing the circumstances of every soul who comes to earth, whether born without a family in a war-torn country, with a faithful family in the heart of peace, or with a family that has strayed far from the truth.

I love my life... and I wouldn't switch it for anything, because God knows what He is doing. He is in control. And, ultimately, if I give my will to Him, and follow Him, He will make me into the man He sees in me - someone far better than I could be myself.

One post ahead: Dear Little Brother (to children with same-sex parents)

Saturday, November 7

Waiting on the Lord (Same-sex adoption. Families. Etc)

Update: The Church has released clarification on the policy mentioned here. The text (published Fri, Nov 13) can be viewed here:

While I was a freshman at BYU, I tried to get to know new people every chance I could get. I wanted to hear their stories, understand what made them tick inside. The best place to find people who would talk to me was the cafeteria. Find someone sitting down somewhere that has just begun eating, strike up a conversation, and see where it goes.

Oh, the beauty of not knowing you're awkward. :)

My freshman year I met a girl in the cafeteria who, after a few minutes, told me she was a convert to the Church. That's not a big surprise; while many students I met at BYU were there because they perceived social pressure to be part of the Church (and used their attendance at BYU to assuage concerns of their families), I met just as many who had come a long way to be there. This girl was one of them.

She grew up in a polygamist family. When she was little, polygamy seemed somewhat normal to her. She knew that most people had just one mom, but she had multiple moms. Eventually her mother got out of the relationship and took her daughter with her, and years later the daughter met missionaries and wanted to be baptized.

Under Church policy, children born in a number of situations, including unsanctioned marriage situations (polygamy, polyandry, etc) must show that they have the ability to safely support themselves and a testimony of the nature of the family - which sometimes means disavowing the nuclear family where they may have spent much of their lives. This policy isn't about politics, though it obviously supports the Church's stalwart stance on the nature of families; the policy is about the importance of each child. The policy applies universally, and, while laws vary, is especially applicable in countries where polygyny, polyandry, and/or group marriage are still legal, customary as per cultural norms, or both.

This daughter was not permitted by her mother to be baptized, so she waited until she was 18, then went through the process on her own. She had to have an interview with a member of the Quorum of the 12 or First Presidency (if I remember right), and talked about how awesome that experience had been for her - to be able to talk with an apostle one-on-one about her childhood, her growing faith, and her simultaneous love for her parents.

I was jealous and somewhat shocked.

My baptismal interview was with my bishop, who I didn't really know very well... and I was 7 years old, about to turn 8. I remember he asked some questions. But that's all I remember. Yes, this young woman had come from a family situation that she eventually had to renounce - she had to openly renounce the choices of her parents... but people get to have baptismal interviews with an apostle? The apostles take notice of something like this?

Another young man was from mainland China. He had a friend who was a member of the Church, but his friend wasn't allowed to share the gospel with him. He told him if he wanted to learn more, he'd have to travel to Hong Kong. Years later, when he was old enough to do so, he traveled to Hong Kong, met with missionaries, and decided to be baptized. Then he returned to his town in the mainland. His friend had moved away, and now he was one of very few members. He had to rely on his own faith. Then he came to BYU.

A few years later, while serving a mission, I met a young man who told me he wanted to be baptized... but was afraid of the potential reaction of his family. I learned shortly thereafter that baptism would be more complicated than normal: since his family opposed it, and he was from a fundamentalist Muslim state where the law was to kill those who betrayed the faith, he would have to find a way to be completely safe before his baptism could happen. And, again, it would have to be approved by an Apostle.

Of all the people I met in the cafeteria and on my mission, the ones who I felt most connected to were people like these. The people who had been born into difficult circumstances, but who found the gospel anyway. The leaders of the Church took special notice of them, even though sometimes they had to wait for those blessings. Yes, each of them had to work for their faith. Yes, they all had to wait. But in working and waiting, they felt like modern-day pioneers. While they regretted the situation of their early childhood, they felt a profound sense of gratitude for the deep testimony they had gained - sometimes far deeper than their peers. And they were so much more faithful, happy, and grateful for it.

The students I met who had been raised in the Church from early on sometimes took their membership, and their faith, for granted. The Church was often just a social club to them, and BYU was just a way to extend the masquerade and get cheap tuition. When something happened in the community, or in their lives, to shake their faith, they were much faster to lose their foundations. Those who had fought for their membership, and those grown in the faith who had actually gained a personal testimony, were totally different.

The policy governing the baptism of children born to polygamous/polyandrous (multiple mothers or multiple fathers) relationships has been around for as long as I can remember. Mainland China hasn't allowed missionaries or temples ever. And neither have some Muslim or other states. Since there are places where practices contrary to Church teachings are accepted, and children learn a huge amount from their parents until they leave home, it makes sense that the Church would want to ensure that children born in every situation honestly understand the gospel. When talking with the people that the policy has affected, I've only ever seen a profound sense of gratitude and love. The fact that the Church required the blessing of a member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles or the First Presidency for their baptism was never seen, to them, as an obstacle. On the contrary, it was a memorable, life-changing blessing.

Recently the Church added to the list of special exceptions children with parents living in same-gender sexual cohabitation or marriage situations (making the policy apply in all countries, whether same-sex marriage is legal or illegal). And, for some people, this is apparently the end of the world.

Under the policy, local leaders are directed to not make a personal decision based only on worthiness when someone presents for baptism in the Church. Instead of having to determine a child or adolescent's actual understanding and dedication to fundamental doctrines about the family, local leaders submit the request to the First Presidency, and they'll make the decision.

It also explicitly states that individuals in same-sex sexual cohabitation or marriage may not present their children for an infant blessing and outlines factors that will influence the First Presidency's decision: Individuals with parents of the same sex will need to disavow same-sex marriage both in word and deed - by showing a personal, lasting commitment to traditional marriage, by no longer living in a home where same-sex marriage is sanctioned, and by being completely free to make their own decisions legally and physically without required consent or potential interference from same-sex parents. Freedom to make your own decisions depends on country and local laws: in the US, you have to be 18 to make your own decisions.

That's it.

So the daughter of lesbian parents can come to Church whenever she is able and sit next to the young man from a Muslim nation, the girl whose parents were polygamists, and the kid who was baptized at 8. She can go to classes with them. Get her Young Women medallions and go to Girl's Camp. Attend Seminary and Mutual. Hold responsibilities and help plan activities. Give service. Fast, pray, and receive Priesthood blessings at her own request. Make plans to be married in the temple someday. And when she becomes legal age, she can move out of the house, choose to join the Church, and prepare to receive her Endowment in the temple.

In our world today, it's easy to think that everyone deserves whatever they want, immediately and now. That being an official member of the Church should be freely available to anyone who wants it, when they want it. But the reality is that God has always been a God of His own timing. And there are plenty of stories dating back to the Bible of people who wanted to join the family of God... who had to wait.

Two come to mind: a leader in the Roman army believed in Christ, but he was a Gentile. His servant was sick, and he knew that Christ had the power to heal. So he approached him and asked for help. Christ healed his servant, and even told the officer that he had greater faith than some of the Jews Christ had met... but didn't baptize the man. He would have to wait for Peter to begin preaching to the Gentiles. (Luke 7:2-10)

Another woman approached Christ and asked for help. She was also a Gentile - simply meaning that she was born to non-Jewish parents. In her response to Christ's questioning, she expressed how grateful she was to be able to symbolically feed on the crumbs that fell from the Master's table, even if she wasn't yet part of the family. Christ healed her daughter... but yet again baptism didn't happen immediately. (Matt 15:22-28)

Why was God - Jesus Christ Himself, the Savior of the World - unwilling to baptize these people who had professed (and shown at great duress) complete faith in Him? Perhaps it was because of political sentiment and the effect it would have on the early Church. Perhaps it was for their safety - to ensure they had a more welcoming environment and didn't become instant martyrs. Perhaps it was because they still held to pagan beliefs and customs embedded in their culture and everyday reality, and there wasn't yet a community of believers large enough where they could learn what to do and what not to. Perhaps it was to allow them to continue to exercise faith on the periphery.

Whatever the reason, God Himself understands all personal situations, blesses His children, and always charts the path they will need to follow to find baptism. In His eyes, life is just a speck in time. And any blessing we have to work or wait for, He will give us a hundredfold.

I believe that God loves all His children. I also believe that He will give all of us the best possible opportunity to receive the gospel, no matter where, how, or when we were born. Sometimes that means that people live their lives without the gospel in far-off places and times, and make a difference in the lives of people during mortality, then accept the gospel after. Sometimes that means being born in the covenant, sealed to an eternal family at birth by nature of two parents who keep their covenants. And sometimes that means choosing to follow God and wait for His blessings.

The people I met in the cafeteria and on my mission were special people. People who had worked against all odds to find and join and stay a part of the Church. While their parents vocally disagreed with Church doctrines and policies, they quietly grew in their own testimonies and treasured the fact that they were known by God and His prophets. In some situations, and by some people, perhaps their trials and the changes required in their beliefs and culture would have been taken for granted. But they weren't taken for granted... partly because the Church told *everyone* that they were special. 

If you're a new part of that group, welcome. I can't promise it will be easy. It's hard to have to wait for blessings from God, especially when people around you feel that you're entitled to them. It's hard to see people around you who take the Gospel, and the simplicity of their lives, for granted. It's hard to see everyone else's dreams come true while yours have long since shattered. It's excruciatingly painful to see people you care about who turn away from the truth... people who have never truly seen God in their trials... or who don't understand what the Gospel really means.

But, more than anything else, it's amazing to feel God's love... and to know that you are His. To have a personal relationship with the Lord of all creation. To be able to speak with Him and hear His voice and see His hand in all things. To have a perspective on life and a testimony and a connection with the Heavens so secure that nothing can shake it. It makes it all worthwhile.

Your life *will* be hard. Likely you'll face major trials long before others do. Maybe you'll have to put your dreams on hold for mortality. Maybe you'll cry yourself to sleep for years. Maybe you'll study the scriptures and pour out your soul to God trying to understand who you are. Maybe you'll lose yourself in service, or reach out and help others, or search deep within yourself to find peace. Whatever happens, definitely you'll find yourself like the people in the scriptures and the BYU cafeteria - having to work and wait on the Lord, having to trust in His timing, having to have faith in His words.

God has good things planned for you. He loves you. And because He knows you, your circumstances, and everything about you, He allowed your life to be hard in the beginning... so you could be stronger in the end.

One post ahead: God Knows What He's Doing
Two posts ahead: Dear Little Brother (to children with same-sex parents)