Monday, December 24, 2012

The Man Whom God Correcteth (Job 5:17)

I have not blogged here for a while, and it has certainly NOT been from lack of things to write. In fact, I have so much I wish I could write about that I think I'll have to write a number of posts over the Christmas break while I have more time than usual. Admittedly, it has been a lack of time that has been the major cause for my lack of writing. Let me just first begin with a quick list of some very major relevant updates in my life and the SSA world generally from the last 2.5 months:

  • The Church launched a new official web-page specifically devoted to same-sex attraction issues. It is fantastic. Take a look if you haven't seen it already:
  • (Gay) Mormon Guy, the blog which I've mentioned numerous times here and which had a profound impact on my, unveiled himself from anonymity in a beautiful post last month. His real name is David Peterson and here is the post:
  • This blog reached its year-mark! It was Thanksgiving weekend of last year when I began this blog and a very interesting journey of self-discovery that I've reflected on a lot over the last few weeks especially.
  • Last, but certainly not least (and this is hands down the #1 reason I haven't had as much time to blog)... since mid-October I've had a girlfriend. A few weeks ago we even talked about my SSA and it hasn't been an issue at all in the relationship. That subject of course will have to be an entire post of its own, which I promise to write at some point during the next week or two. But I feel like I need to get some other thoughts out in this post before I can write that one.
For now, I'd like to focus especially on the third bullet above: reflecting on the last year of my life and my journey confronting my SSA rather than ignoring it or pretending it isn't there. This blog records a good portion of my reflections upon that journey (with the obvious exception of some chronological holes when I didn't write as much--especially during the summer). I'm amazed at the evolution of my thoughts about myself and my relationship with my own SSA. I have to admit that while many of my early posts are extremely valid emotional outpourings that adequately described my state at the time, they do not all necessarily represent how I feel now. Some of them are very simple in areas that I now see with greater complexity, while others which I once saw quite complexly now seem so very simple.

One thing is sure: I am more stable and sure now than I was a year ago regarding my SSA. Some of that has been incredibly painful. For example, my post from October discusses some of my feelings from those summer months when I didn't blog for a while. It really doesn't tell the whole story in terms of the actual events which triggered those feelings, and I don't know if I'll ever record those here, but I learned incredible lessons from those things. I was made to confront some major weaknesses and make a couple sacrifices in order to grow. But guess what? The happiness I've attained in the recent months as I've been a better person makes that pain totally worth it. Below is a verse from our wise friend Job that adequately sums up these sentiments. From chapter 5, verse 17:

"Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore, despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty."

The last few days I've been pondering a few additional weaknesses and have had my eyes opened to very clear ways the Lord is offering to help me to overcome them. I can already clearly see some pain and sacrifice that are required, but looking back in amazement at how far I've come over the last year, I feel already a sense of happiness to begin the process of working on them.

The great thing about being corrected is that by definition it makes us more correct, and why would we not want to be correct? The great thing about being corrected by the LORD, is that the alternative is to be corrected, or more likely mis-corrected by others or, perhaps most terrifyingly, ourselves! From experience, that tends to end in disaster.

May I end this post of reflection on the last year by giving a special thank you to a follower of this blog? Her name is Emily. She found my blog through one of my Obadiah tweets on Twitter back in early December of last year and to my knowledge was the first human other than myself to ever read it. She was certainly the first to ever respond or send feedback, which I desperately needed at the time. I had written a handful of posts at that point believing they were being sent into darkness, heard by nobody and it made me feel awfully lonely and insecure. She was the first other human to ever chat with me about my SSA and give me encouragement, even though I'd never met her in person (and still haven't). She regularly comments and send feedback on my posts and I don't think she's ever known how much of a help she was just by reaching out compassionately to a poor confused gay kid she came across on the internet. Likewise many more supporters have followed since then with emails, tweets, FB messages, blog comments, etc. of non-stop support and love. Thank you all so very much.

My best,


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Learning to Decrease: the 2 Desires Revisited (John 3:30)

I recently re-read an old post from January which incidentally features probably my favorite title on the blog thus far: "Souvenirs from Hell and the Altar of Sacrifice (Matthew 5:29-30)." Honestly, reading some of these older posts, as well as older journal entries (lately I've been reading my mission journals again) really causes me to reflect on my growth as well as important lessons I've learned in the past that I sometimes need reminding of in the present! I was actually really taken aback by that post from the beginning of this year. It presents a lot of very complex thoughts and concepts that take several readings to really digest properly. It seemed like I was reading something written by someone else and I guess in a way I was--because we are not static things; we are dynamic, changing beings. I AM in fact a different person than I was in January. And it was fascinating to see the views and mind of this earlier Obadiah. One concept I/he wrote about that I now remember pondering a lot back then was the idea of the two dichotomous desires we struggle with throughout our lives: the desire to "fit in" and blend into our community and the desire to assert our individuality. And now I'm once again thinking a lot about it and hope to add a few new insights on the subject here.

It seems that throughout our lives we oscillate between trying to fill these two desires. We generally devote our time to focusing on whichever one is more lacking at any given time and I think it is generally rare for anyone to go their whole life fixated too predominantly on one or the other, though certainly exceptions exist. We also don't generally consciously think about acting to fill the one or the other. It happens very naturally and subconsciously. In my case, I'd say that I tend to go back and forth every few months between focusing on the one or the other, though I also think that multiple-year segments of my life have tended to skew towards one or the other. For example, in elementary school I desperately wanted to fit in and focused more of my attention on that desire. In college I've experienced basically the opposite: I've given more attention to wanting to assert my individuality. And yet there are clearly exceptions and oscillations within those periods. If I look just at 2012, for example, I'd say most of the year has been focused on my individuality while the last month and a half I've really addressed my "fitting in" needs a lot more closely.

What's really tricky about all of this is that neither desire deserves to be lauded or derided over the other. Both can actually be important and both can be dangerous. For example, regarding the desire to "fit in," feeding this desire can be good if it

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New page for first timers!

This is a quick post by way of announcement. In a bout of insomnia I decided to add a new special page to my blog, as you can see on the tab above, for first-time visitors. It basically summarizes the intent of the blog and also lists my favorite posts, as well as the most popular posts.

I've been fortunate to have a lot of new readers as of late and have had some great online interactions as a result. :) Love you all!

My best,


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Judging (Matthew 7:1-2)

This post is going to try to put into words some muddled thoughts on a difficult subject. I got some interesting emails after last week's post on male modesty. Most troubling were some of the bitter accusations I got about being judgmental. Anyone who had also read my earlier post on modesty from February would realize that my intent has never been to "judge" or condemn anyone. But I feel like we are starting to live in a world where to stand for any value or standard has begun to be interpreted automatically as "judging" anyone who doesn't agree with that standard. Just because I don't drink coffee is no reason to assume that I am constantly shaking my finger at anyone I see who does drink coffee. In fact, I don't even drink soda! That is a personal choice on my part, but I've never seen someone drinking a soda and think, "boy, they sure aren't as good of a person as they could be if they'd stop drinking soda." Likewise, my choice to not run shirtless should not be interpreted to mean that I think I'm a generally better person than those who do or that they are evil.

2 weeks ago Elder Holland gave a CES fireside address which discussed, among other things, the difficult subject of JUDGING. It is a fantastic talk, and if you didn't see it, you can by clicking here. This post will manage to address, however feebly, my own thoughts on this difficult subject.

It seems to me that one of the large problems that arises with this subject is a fundamental ambiguity regarding the use of the term "judging." What do we mean when we say that we feel others are judging us? The most primitive Hebrew and Greek root forms of the words translated "judge" in the Bible basically mean to discern. In other words, if I see you do something and cognitively process that you have done that thing, I have just made a judgment. This is automatic and often a necessary part of interaction which is essential to our understanding of the world and cannot/should not be avoided. I don't think this is what is meant when someone feels they are "being judged" by someone. In fact, I've been thinking all week about what we DO mean when say that. It is harder to define than we may immediately think given how often we throw the term around. The best I can conclude is that the person who feels like they are being "judged" feels like they have been assessed some form of disapproval from the other person. This may or may not be true, but it is certainly what the allegedly "judged" person perceives to be the truth. Ironically, as a result, the "judged" person often does in fact return an actual disapproving assessment of the supposed judger. In other words, when most people complain that others are judging them, they are in fact judging those other people. (I know that was complicated. Hopefully it made sense.)

Here are some additional questions I've pondered this week on the subject of judging. I don't have answers to all of them, though I certainly have opinions and thoughts on most of them. Mostly, I think they are simply important questions to ponder regardless of whether we can pin down a concrete answer for all or any of them:

*Is it possible to disapprove of an action we observe without negatively assessing the person who does the thing?

*Is making a personal decision about what we consider right and wrong the same as judging that action for all other people when we observe them doing it?

*Can we truly believe in the concept of moral law without believing some actions are wrong?

*How much does our assessment of others' actions matter?

*How much does others' assessment of our actions matter?

I hope you had fun pondering those. I imagine I'm going to continue to ponder them for some time now. Another thing I've pondered and tried to understand is the well-known and oft-quoted passage from the Sermon on the Mount:

"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt. 7:1-2)

Note that these are among those verses which are not altered at all in the 3 Nephi retelling of the Sermon on the Mount (albeit there is a narrative transition added to the beginning of the first verse).

From the ancient source texts, forms of the Greek word krino are used 5 times in those 2 verses. This is that primitive verb meaning "to discern" and a far greater number of both Old and New Testament passages tell us that is is something we SHOULD do. But the word "judgment" in verse 2 is actually a more specific noun form (krima) which denotes an actual pronouncement of condemnation. As this is the only connotation we can assign to the other 4 neutral krino forms in the verses, it seems like the best interpretation looking at it from this perspective would be "Condemn not, that ye be not condemned." Elsewhere, of course, Christ tells us that we SHOULD "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This Greek basically connotes to discern the good that people do.

Ultimately, the more I study this subject, the more it seemingly increases in ambiguity. There is a bit of a contradiction in Christ's commands that we both should and shouldn't judge, but I *think* (and this is certainly a fluid opinion on my part) that the point He's trying to convey is this: we should not occupy ourselves thinking about the bad others do, but we should take note of the good they do. That being said, it would be unwise for us to never discern whether an action is good or bad. We simply needn't preoccupy ourselves with those actions we deem inappropriate and we should never neglect to see the good in everyone wherever it is found.

Sometimes it is our job or stewardship to judge the deeds of others and even to offer correction. The role of parents is often to help correct a child in order to help them become an upstanding and morally concerned contributor to society. Teachers cannot truly help a student grow if they aren't willing to assess weaknesses and points for correction. In these and similar instances, discerning weakness is necessary, including even commentary and feedback on those weaknesses. If our focusing on a weakness is not for the intent to lift someone higher or is not appropriately within our stewardship, it probably isn't a wise thing for us to make public or to dwell on.

I know this post hasn't been very logically ordered thus far, perhaps because it reflects my disjoint and inconclusive thoughts on the subject. But overall most of my advice and thoughts have focused on those who judge. Now a few thoughts for those who feel judged by others:

First of all, for the most part it doesn't matter what others think about you, and you may not be correct anyway. You are not a telepath. We desire acceptance and fear losing it, so we often jump to the conclusion that the absence of a positive affirmation of our actions automatically assumes a negative assessment. Second of all, sometimes our assumptions about the judgments of others are actually a reflection of our own arguments with ourselves. Change is difficult and when we don't want to change (even when deep down we know we need to) we build walls of justification that can also involve assigning blame to others who are "judging us" as a defense. They may not have thought about anything you've done, but regardless of whether or not they have, your perceptions of their thoughts are more likely a manifestation of your own argument with yourself about the relative good or bad of your own actions. Sometimes this might mean that the correct course is actually to humbly listen and look for ways to improve rather than to fight back. And if you know you are doing the right thing, then it doesn't matter what others think about you. Let them think you are evil if they want to; if you are a good person then God will take note, regardless of the opinions of others around you. He's smarter than they are. And don't judge them in return. If they are judging you, their underlying intent is most likely to safeguard themselves from doing things that are wrong. That isn't always the case, but quite often a person may judge even inappropriately with the best of intentions because they, like you, are also imperfect.

Anyway, I hope this made sense. It has not been my first post on judging and I'm sure it won't be my last. Commentary is welcome.

My best,


Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Manifesto on Male Modesty (1 Peter 2:9)

Provo has an inordinate amount of shirtless men. They are always out running, or playing basketball, or playing tennis, or just walking around the apartment courtyards. If you are an average Provo-dwelling guy, you are probably not as keenly aware of this fact as girls (and guys like me) are.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be an air of hypocrisy in this? BYU's campus newspaper is constantly running letters to the editor from men on campus complaining about the general lack of modesty of some of the girls on campus. I know of at least one instance of a guy who has made such complaints and who I regularly see running shirtless. And how many letters does the newspaper get about the modesty of men? I have yet to read one. So this is my own declaration of what I feel is an important but oft-neglected component of the modesty discussion: the need for increased modesty among men.

Elder Robert D. Hales of the quorum of the twelve taught the following in an article from the Ensign Magazine, August 2008:

"Some Latter-day Saints may feel that modesty is a tradition of the Church or that it has evolved from conservative, puritanical behavior. Modesty is not just cultural. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us."

He also taught in that same article that modesty was one of the first lessons taught to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, where God made coats of skins for them to cover their nakedness. "Like Adam and Eve," he continues, "we have been taught that our bodies are formed in the likeness of God and are therefore sacred."

 When I was younger, before I had faced and confronted my attractions, I used to think it was silly how many guys turned their heads and really struggled when they saw immodest girls. I thought it was just a lack of effort on the part of the guy to keep his heart and thoughts pure, mostly because I didn't experience much of the same sensation and it thus wasn't very hard for me to not look. I just thought they needed to try to be more righteous or something. Confronting my attractions though has made me realize how much harder it is for me to not look when I see an attractive guy running by with no shirt (and for whatever reason, the inordinate amount of shirtless men in Provo all seem to do an inordinate amount of working out). I now empathize much more with my non-SSA peers who struggle when they see an immodest girl and actually respect the great effort they are making evident in their struggles.

And yet, it seems that more and more I hear related to the topic of modesty a refutation of the effect on others as a valid reason for modesty advocacy. I hear people claim frequently that if a guy can't keep his thoughts clean when he sees a less-than-modestly dressed girl that it is HIS fault not hers. There is actually a lot of truth to this, and it is something that is important to consider. New York Rabbi Dov Linzer has said the following wise words on the matter: “By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.” This is a very important point to consider, for the great object of modesty is to de-objectify individuals, and we thus need to be careful to be sure that our very discussion on modesty doesn't in fact objectify anyone all the more. And it is true that it ultimately IS the responsibility of each individual to "watch [them]selves, and [their] thoughts" as King Benjamin taught (Mosiah 4:30). Nobody is responsible for your thoughts but YOU. Admittedly, it isn't always very easy to control them and sometimes they control us instead, but I've addressed that in greater detail in other posts.

Understanding that it is the responsibility of each person to guard their own thoughts regardless of whatever outside factors are thrown at them, we still shouldn't be making excuses for immodesty. If a person wants to quit smoking, it is much harder if others are offering him cigarettes all the time. We will never eradicate temptation, but where it exists and we can do something to lessen it, we should if by lessening it we can help more people be better. I get concerned when one person's call for greater modesty gets shot down by someone saying, "well, it is your fault that you have bad thoughts when someone dresses that way." The logic seems to be that the weakness of one person excuses the actions of another. Bob is not perfect, but that should not give Sally free reign to do whatever she wants. We have a responsibility to each other, and when Sally's actions aid in causing Bob to stumble when she could choose another option that wouldn't do so, it is the right thing to do for Sally to make the choice that better enables Bob to be better. Bob still needs to work on his own problems independent of what Sally does.

Furthermore, as mentioned above from Elder Hales, modesty is a commandment. Regardless of the effects on other people, the moral compass of a member of the covenant points towards obeying what God has asked of us. If I lived in a society of blind individuals who could never see how I am dressed, it would still be my responsibility to dress modestly because it is what I have promised to do. None of the others in my hypothetical world would ever know if I chose to walk around shirtless, and thus none would ever by stimulated one way or another, but I would know and God would know. Modesty, like wearing garments, is an "outward expression of an inward commitment." It is a reminder of where I have placed my allegiances. In that blind world, there would still be great benefit in my modesty for me personally, as it would serve as a reminder to me of my relationship with God and the fact that He has loved me enough to make promises with me.

So, thus far what I've written has MOSTLY regarded the topic of modesty generally--these things apply equally to modesty in both men and women. I conclude with a return to a specific focus on male modesty.

As mentioned before, we don't talk about this subject as much. Perhaps it isn't as frequent an occurrence as immodestly among women. Nonetheless, I think it is a bigger problem than we often realize. It seems part of the reluctance to address it also seems to stem from some misconception that for whatever reason it isn't "as bad" for men to dress immodestly as girls do. Could it just be that women are better at controlling thoughts than men are and so it doesn't seem like such a big deal? Well, while I'm sure that women probably ARE as a general rule better at controlling thoughts than guys are, I know they aren't perfect or immune (and I KNOW it has an effect on guys like me). Bob has as much obligation to Sally as she does to him.

Besides detrimental side-effects a shirtless guy can have on a girl, he also isn't doing a favor to his fellow men. From my own observations, and this does not apply to everyone, but when men parade shirtless there seems to be an increased "show-off" factor to the immodesty. As I mentioned before, an unusually high percentage of those who I see running by bare-chested everyday seem to be not only in shape, but quite well-toned physically. Once again, I'm not saying that every physically fit guy who runs shirtless has a Narcissus complex or even that he's consciously trying to impress ANYONE. But there often does seem to be pride hiding in immodesty, just as much as that earlier quote from Elder Hales tied modesty to humility (in fact, the words in some contexts are used as synonyms). The "show-off" aspect occurring in much of male immodesty harms the soul of the immodest man by pride, and can be a detriment also to the self-esteem and confidence of his fellow men. Once again, Bob is not directly responsible for the feelings of esteem in Johnny any more than he is for Sally's thoughts, but he does still serve as a negative influence rather than a help.

Finally, as I said already, the ultimate reason a Mormon man should remain modest is because he has made promises to do so. It was fascinating to me as I was looking up modesty in the Topical Guide (a study reference index of topics included in the back of the LDS edition of the KJV Bible) that after the main list of scriptures it gave on the subject, in the "See Also" section that points to additional related passages, it listed 1 Peter 2:9. I found it kind of odd to see that verse listed as relevant to modesty as that is not usually what we use that verse for. However, with some thought I began to see how very relevant it actually was to the subject and that it is particularly addressed to the men of the Church. It says:

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."

Brethren: we of the priesthood have a responsibility to SHOW (the older English form "shew" is used in the verse) the world our praises of God. There are other verses that talk about singing our praises of God or proclaiming them. This one says we SHOW them. And what greater praise can we give to God than to keep the promises we've made to Him? The actions we show publicly are the first indication the world has of where our allegiances lie. I understand the convenience of running shirtless, because I run a lot and I sweat inordinate amounts whenever I do. But by wearing a shirt, perhaps especially when it comes out as soaking wet as mine do, I leave no room for doubt that I've chosen to be modest in my appearance. I pray we may all as priesthood brethren reflect the royal army that we are. And this army has no need to show off rippling pectorals, for there is a greater need for examples of those who consistently work-out spiritually.

So this is my manifesto: let us spread the word to gladly encourage our brethren to live up to the same standards we always ask our sisters to maintain. I don't often ask for you, my loyal readers and supporters, to share my posts, but I'm making a plea this time. If you agree that there is an importance in emphasizing modesty for BOTH men and women, please send this along if for no other reason than to stimulate discussion on and awareness of the matter.

My best,


P.S. Perhaps sharing this post will also scare some of the more machismo shirtless men into modesty since they may not have realized previously that in trying to impress girls they may have also been turning the heads of guys like me along the way. ;)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Can I Keep From Singing? (Psalms 100:1-5)

I haven't posted in a long time. Too long in fact. I now have heard rumors that I haven't posted because supposedly I "saw the light" and abandoned my "foolish Mormonism." Not so. If my Mormonism is my foolishness, I am more foolish than ever.

That said, the last 4 months have been an interesting emotional journey. I've learned a lot of critical lessons about managing my attractions and about the power and value of positive friendships in various forms. I cannot condense the last 4 months into a single post, so I won't even try. But I have been through one of the darkest periods of depression in my life to a current position of greater renewed faith than I have ever known. And I am happy. Very happy. I have seen the Hand of God very clearly in recent days and have now been blessed to have my eyes opened to see that Hand very evident throughout the events of this summer, even when I couldn't see it at the time.

Being humbled is hard. But worth it. That's what I learned this summer. I learned also above all to trust God above the opinions and half-truths of man. I'm always amazed at how gently and gracefully He can perform such intensive and delicate soul-surgery as He often does on us, eradicating the tumors of imperfection and personality flaw. I know I have many more such tumors to be worked out, but the schedule for the operations is always in His hands, not mine. Perfection requires patience and surrendering our time-tables to his.

When I heard that many were doubting my continued faithfulness, I could not sit back and fail to declare the truth: that I am still on the Lord's side and have to intent of leaving. For He has been so kind to me; so patient with me in my imperfections. I am filled with astonishment at His rich blessings. Two things come to mind: a psalm and a hymn.

First, the 100th Psalm:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
 For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

The third verse is my favorite. It is easy to fall into a trap of self-worship, patting ourselves on the back for all our own accomplishments. We forget that He is the One who made us, and who remakes us again and again, continually perfecting us. He is our shepherd, we are the sheep. Sometimes I'm not a very good sheep, but He doesn't decrease the efficacy of His shepherding towards me. In fact, He increases it in our behalf when we are the ones needing attention. 

One of the blessings I had over this summer was a set of stellar roommates. They were guys I knew before I moved in with them and they became wonderful friends. The one with whom I actually shared a room knew about my SSA before I even moved in and was always so supportive and kind. Then, a few weeks ago the security I had in those roommates got thrown in the air when I had to move unexpectedly due to a contract mix-up. I was thrown into a new apartments with unknown roommates. I was not excited about it at all, and in fact quite worried. But you know what? It has been fantastic. It is what the Lord knew I needed. My random set of roommates has been an unexpected blessing I not only didn't ask for, but even resisted. In fact, I felt prompted and comfortable telling the roommate I actually share my room with about my attractions on the fourth day I knew him. He was not weirded out at all. In fact, he was very understanding. This was a huge relief. Over the summer for the first time ever I grew accustom to having a roommate who knew about me who I could confide in and talk about things with. That roommate was a remarkable help to me. I was very worried about not having that support anymore after growing used to it. And so I was blessed to be given a great roommate who is equally understanding, and I was blessed to be able to discern it within the first week of knowing him. None of my other roommates know, but they are all fantastic, wonderful guys as well. I've also been blessed to not find myself becoming too attached to or infatuated with any of them despite the strong friendships we are all building and the fact that they all generally happen to be rather good looking. None of that has been even the slightest problem. 

Other parts of my life, including my new semester, etc. are also all falling into place and the direction of the Lord is very clear. I am amazed looking at all the blessings He is pouring on me, far more than I deserve. The world still has a lot of problems and I am not exempt. I still have trials I'm managing, and my attractions are still a consideration. But despite all the things I face, I am happy and amazed at God's love. That's where a great traditional Protestant hymn comes to mind that has always been one of my favorites. It is not found in our hymnal, but I wish it was. It is called, "How Can I Keep From Singing?" This is how I feel. The Lord has been so good amidst my trials, that I can't hold back from sharing that message. And that has brought me back my blog after my summer hiatus. (I guess you could say I am personally feeling like, "How Can I Keep from Blogging?"). Anyway, I'll leave you with the beautiful lyrics from that wonderful hymn:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul--
How can I keep from singing?
What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his--
How can I keep from singing?
My best,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

He First Loved Us (1 John 4:19)

Do you remember that time I totally had that major crush on that guy I nicknamed "Methuselah" here on the blog and had a series of posts related to him? Well, I'm gonna need to conjure up another pseudonym for another person in my story. Let's call him "Habakkuk." Like Methuselah, Habakkuk is another man I liked, and this time I really fell pretty deeply in love with him a couple months ago. As with my telling of the Methuselah saga, it is easier for me to write about the feelings and experiences a few months after the fact so as to give proper time to digest and process each experience fully (it's also harder to share when things are so fresh in the mind). My story with Habakkuk is a bit more complicated than my Methuselah story because unlike Methuselah, Habakkuk is another SSA guy like me.

I knew I was physically attracted to him, obviously, the first time I saw him. I still am and probably always will be. But that's nothing new. I've dealt with that before. However, once I got to know him I soon discovered how well I connected with him in pretty much every possible way--socially, spiritually, emotionally, etc. It didn't take long for that initial physical attraction to blossom into something much deeper. Part of me soon wanted very much to be in a relationship with him. And those feelings started me on an intense journey of self-discovery which would ultimately transform my relationship with God.

I knew all along that I needed to tread carefully since he was also SSA and seemed to be connecting with me almost as much as I was with him. Luckily for me, he wasn't as attracted to me which I'm sure helped things a lot. I actually don't feel much of a need nor a desire to lay out the details of how our friendship grew. I think I'll just skip ahead to a critical conversation I had with God.

We had just had a very emotional night, discussing the feelings we'd had and I confessed to him that I'd fallen in love with him and was so sorry. We talked about needing to have some space for a little while. It was a very painful discussion that I didn't take very well, breaking into tears several times. I knew what the right thing to do was and was doing it. We hadn't done anything wrong, and in fact were each showing great courage in that moment doing what was right. Things have gone much better since that night and I'm happy to report that my relationship with Habakkuk has been one of the healthiest, most meaningful friendships I've ever had. But later that night I had a discussion with God that changed my life.

Have you ever been angry at God? It is a strange experience. When we are angry with God, we are still expressing faith that He exists, and yet we aren't expressing much support of what He does. It feels wretched and shameful, yet self-sustainably indignant at the same time. I haven't felt that way very many times in my life (this might be the only time logged in my memory in fact!). But that night amidst the many confusing and conflicting emotions I felt, I did in fact feel a very genuine anger towards God. I've had too many experiences confirming my faith to me to doubt His reality, but my desires for Habakkuk made me angry at Him that night. For a moment it simply didn't seem fair that the gospel forbade me to have a relationship with someone I'd fallen in love with. Whenever I feel shame, my typical first reaction is to run from God. Not so with this anger: I got on my knees and confronted God in prayer.

On my knees, sobbing, I asked God why I couldn't be with this man. Why can't I date, marry, and build a life with him? Even in my indignation, God answered. He answered swiftly, softly, and directly. The thought came to my heart and mind almost immediately: "Well, you CAN build a relationship with him IF you love him more than you love Me." It was a very gentle response. Disarmingly gentle. He even filled me with an understanding that I could be very happy temporally in a relationship like that, but that I would always KNOW that I'd done so at great cost. There are many paths to happiness in THIS life, but if I chose that one it would be at the forfeiture of a celestial glory and I would make that choice knowing full well of that consequence.

I love the writings of John the Beloved. He is one of the most profound writers in all of the scriptures, and his extensive writings on love in his first general epistle have long been among my favorite scriptures. However, there was always one verse that I never understood, and which in fact troubled me quite deeply until this experience. In 1st John 4:19 we read:

"We love him, because he first loved us."

It is a short thought wedged between two other verses which are each among my favorites and which have never confused me in the least. But this one was certainly a conundrum. It always seemed like a very silly reason to love God. I guess I was always reading it as meaning we loved him out of some sense of debt because He loved us first so we owed it to Him or something. And that didn't sit well with me. But now there I was, angry at God and met with a feeling of calmness and love in return to my indignation. He gave me a pure love that opened my understanding and I couldn't help but feel a desire to return it. I suddenly realized that His ability to love us first despite our weakness and imperfection is WHY He is worth loving so much and that the love He sends first is often the conduit to a transforming power enabling us to truly love Him deeper. The love He first sends us inspires us to love Him in return. It is an unconditional love, and therefore bears no gravity of debt demanding repayment. He made it very clear that He didn't require me to love Him and that if I chose to love Habakkuk more that was entirely up to me. And yet that love itself changed me deep down. How could I NOT love Him more? I learned that day that I loved Him because of the love He had first for me.

I should add also that my story here doesn't account for the fact that Habakkuk would have also had to have loved me more than he loved God in order for us to have ever had a relationship. And I knew him well enough to know how much love he has for God and that even if I DID love him more than I loved God, he would never feel that same way. (That is one reason I've felt so safe with him.) I do still love him very deeply, but I love God more, and that love for God has transformed the love I have for my fellow SSA brother into something purer and better. I love him even deeper now than I did then, but in a holier way. Perhaps that's why the Great Commandments--to love God and to love our fellow men--are ordered in the way they are. When we love God first, it enables us to love others more purely than we ever could if we placed them ahead of God.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It Does in Fact Get Better, and with God it Gets Best (Ether 12:4)

Last week I wrote a post on the recent panel discussion at BYU, which I attended, and have received the most overwhelming feedback on a post yet since then. This week, I'd like to comment on a related story, namely the YouTube video that was released shortly thereafter, proclaiming an "It gets better" message from self-identified gay and lesbian BYU students. The fundamental goal of the "It gets better" commercials you've probably seen on TV or YouTube is to help prevent suicide of LGBT individuals who are struggling with depression or facing lots of ridicule or attacks on their self-worth as a result of their orientation. Many have scoffed at the campaign because the sponsors of it on a national scale also tend to advocate political objectives such as gay marriage. However, I have to begin by saying that anything which helps prevent suicide and reminds a human soul that they have worth cannot be entirely evil. I can put aside my own differences of opinion with any individual when we can unite on a common goal. If battling suicide and depression are the goal, I'm all for it.

And so we have the BYU video. If you haven't seen it, here it is. If you're pressed for time and can't watch the full 10 minutes, watch at least the last minute to get the gist of it (from about 8:30 to the end):

Some people have raised some concerns about the video, that it is fundamentally ambiguous because of the use of the terms gay and lesbian. People want to know what "kind" of gay Mormons these are: are these those who are planning on a gospel life including full commitment to the law of chastity, or do some plan to eventually leave the church to be in a relationship someday, or try to straddle the two worlds. From personal knowledge and acquaintance with several of those featured in the video (they actually don't know about my own SSA; I know them from classes I've shared with them), I can report that the video includes both. And why shouldn't it? In a way, this simply underscores the fact that disagree as some of us may on our approach to being latter-day saints experiencing same-sex attraction, there are some things we can agree on, especially in reassuring those who are trapped in uncertainty and self-loathing that things get better. Nobody in the video attempted to prescribe to anyone else what the correct course of action is.

I want to raise my own voice of hope today for all who have a rough time. As I contemplate that phrase, "it gets better," I've thought about the reasons why and how that fact manages to be true, regardless of one's approach to the whatever trial they are facing. And honestly, it seems to come from several things. Things get better because we as humans adapt. We learn to cope and the initial shock and trauma of coming to terms with something unexpected subsides. People around us also change. Those who say hurtful things today usually change and soften with time also. When any new circumstance besets us in life, we sometimes have to learn to approach our life differently, which can be hard; but, eventually we succeed and move forward as before. This is the nature of life, and seems to be able to apply to any trial, hardship, change, circumstance, etc. that besets us. So, we've established that it WILL get better. What I've also learned though, is that the WAY it gets better is largely up to us and how we react to our situation.

It was almost a year ago that I started to confront my same-sex attraction in a healthy way for the first time in my life. May and June of last year were two of the most emotionally confusing months of my life. I had been telling myself every day for almost 10 years up to that point that I didn't have this problem, because I didn't want to acknowledge it and didn't want it to be real. But I knew there were some pretty significant emotional stumbling-blocks being ignored and I wasn't making any progress in dating, or in coping with certain bouts of depression. I finally concluded that I couldn't ignore it anymore.It's been said that insanity means doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. That had been my approach so far: continually ignoring and repressing, expecting the feelings to somehow therefore magically go away and allow me to find my happily ever after. Recognizing this, I knew I needed to change things up, so for the first time in my life I began to allow myself to acknowledge those feelings and try to discern what they meant.

I went to the internet to try to find answers. My searches generally only produced a feeling of deep despair, sure that nobody else out there experienced this trial who didn't eventually leave the Church. I started reading a lot of anti-Mormon rhetoric on the subject from former members who had left the Church to pursue same-sex relationships and found blog after blog filled with such stories. I got tangled up in reading erotic homosexual literature online and occasionally contemplated possibly finding a guy to hook up with to experiment with my homosexual feelings. I'm not going to delve into the complete details of this rather dark period of my life here on this blog. But I faced severe depression at that time and genuinely didn't know what was going to happen to me. I could see some addictive patterns setting in with the erotic literature and anti-Mormon words. My scripture study was having ups and downs and my prayers shortened significantly, as I felt like every time I prayed I merely wanted to check in with God out of a sense of duty, then flee from Him because I was ashamed of myself. I didn't want to talk to anyone about it, least of all God. And I hated myself deeply. I knew that the things I was reading were addictive and wrong, as were some of the thoughts I was having. I knew in theory that the Church only condemned actions, not feelings, and yet somehow I seemed to believe that applied to everyone except me--that my thoughts of attraction for certain men made me evil.

An additional side note on erotic literature: if you are tangled up in reading that garbage, stop now. You will justify it by saying it isn't pornography because there are no pictures. That's a load of crap. The point of the literature is the same as pornography, and it fills your mind with just as many bad sexual thoughts. Indeed, it leaves it to you to imagine the scenes described in your head, and you often find yourself filling it with your own friends and acquaintances you find attractive, subjecting them in your mind to horrible acts they would never choose. You are doing exactly what Christ warned against when He spoke of "looking to lust," about which I've written on an earlier occasion. Erotic literature is just another form of pornography when all is said and done. In fact, I might go so far as to say it is WORSE, because often the sexual scenes described were clothed in what seemed like a tender true love story. I still remember one of them I read so vividly because I felt so connected with the principal character and his lover, which will mess with your brain regarding the right and wrong of homosexual relationships. Picture porn is purely carnal. Written porn feeds you the carnal with a mixture of compelling emotions that aim to get you hooked and attached. Oh, and one more thing: looking up the male reproductive system and then other related articles on human sexual behavior on Wikipedia in order to justify certain pictures and written descriptions is also porn if that's what you're using it as. I've been surprised talking with other SSA guys how frequently that is the starting point for porn addictions. It draws you in by telling you that you're just scientifically curious about the subject, when you know the real reason you're there. Lots of us have done it to, but that doesn't make it right. Don't go there! Anyway, back to my story and how I was feeling...

I truly did want to remain faithful. I had a very clear testimony of the Gospel that I had gained through a life of gospel living, including certain experiences through my mid- to late-teens that really confirmed the witness of truth to me. Additional experiences on my mission and since continued to show with remarkable clarity to truthfulness of the gospel. I had seen miracles from the Hand of God and had felt His Spirit in UNDENIABLE ways on multiple occasions. I had no room to doubt the validity and efficacy of the gospel. In many ways, that was the greatest cause of my grief: I knew what was right and saw myself doing what was wrong, feeling helpless along the way. I was still very active in my calling and loved Church and my ward very dearly. But the simultaneity of my righteous and unrighteous pursuits was creating some massive cognitive dissonance. And the loneliest feeling resulted from the fact that I couldn't see any examples of others choosing a path which embraced being both same-sex attracted/gay and an active, practicing latter-day saint in full fellowship. I actually didn't worry about not being accepted if I chose to pursue a sexually active lifestyle in the LGBT community and outside the Church. I had already found online many others who had done the same thing and I knew that while it would break some hearts and sever some relationships, I could ultimately find acceptance elsewhere and things would "get better." I also already experienced the support and belonging associated with active participation in the Church. I've seen many leave the Church because they said they were embracing who they really were, and yet to me it seemed like leaving the Church would do the opposite as I would be cutting off a part of myself even more fundamental than my attractions: my covenant relationship with the Deity whose son I am. And yet I felt trapped. I saw my bad actions and thought I was on an inevitable course to leaving the Church. Nobody would understand me if I said, "I feel attracted to men, but I'm going to remain faithful to God and to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which I know to be His true Church on earth. I want to pursue marriage to a woman, and if that doesn't happen in this life, I will remain celibate."

I actually didn't magically find resolve to these concerns at the end of June. Instead, I left through July and August for an internship abroad and it was a very effective distraction. While I was out of the country, I was so busy with the work I was doing and so very happy doing it, that I had no time to ponder those issues further. I actually thought about them very little and in fact, I almost forgot about them when what seemed like a miracle happened: I met a girl--another BYU student on the same internship--who I loved and was attracted to. Now, as I've mentioned before on this blog, she wasn't the first I was attracted to. But certainly the occasions had been rare. But I liked her so much and felt like maybe all those years of telling myself I wasn't gay had finally paid off and here was my prize. We weren't allowed to date while on the internship, but the next fall back in Provo, I took her on several dates in September and October. We didn't formally date, per se, but we spent a lot of time together and definitely had a mutual pull for each other. I've told this story I think before on the blog. The short of it is, by late October things fell apart and the attempted relationship didn't work out. This threw me psychologically and emotionally back into all the same despair, depression, and confusion I'd felt back in May and June.

I started reading erotic literature again and anti-Mormon blogs, picking up right where I'd left off. But this time, God had a tender mercy in store for me to help knock me in the right direction. It actually was planted before things fell apart with the girl. During conference weekend in October I had been following the #ldsconf hashtag on Twitter. I saw a lot of tweets coming from a user named @GayMormonGuy. I thought that was interesting and was worried it was one of the many former or less-faithful members whose blogs I'd read, perhaps planting derisive comments on Twitter during conference using the hashtag. But all of his tweets were very positive about the Church and conference. Intrigued, I went to his Twitter profile and found his blog address. (A link to the (Gay) Mormon Guy blog can be found at right on my blog list). It was the blog I always had looked for back in May and June but could never find: a faithful latter-day saint who experienced same-sex attraction. But mind you, when I first found this on Twitter, I wasn't yet depressed again. In fact I remember specifically thinking, "Wow. That's cool. But I don't need that anymore anyway, because I have a girl now." And I moved on.

After things fell apart several weeks later, as I said, I initially fell back into the same habits of despair. I actually did not at first remember the (Gay) Mormon Guy blog. I actually was quite busy that semester, so I was slightly more distracted from the issues than I had been in May and June, but he same patterns were reemerging and I felt like I'd squandered a miracle. My same-sex attractions actually really intensified during that time. In fact, it was at that time I really fixated on the one individual I've code-named "Methuselah" in the past here on the blog. My attraction level for girls fell to practically zero as well. But then, things got better. During Thanksgiving break that blog I'd found during conference came back to memory vaguely. It took me a bit of searching, but I found it again... and it changed my life. His story and experiences resonated deeply with me. I felt sometimes like he was describing me perfectly, as if he had seen into my life and heart, but he was just talking about himself. It was a very large blog with over 800 followers at the time, and over 2 years worth of entries, often with daily posts early on. I read the entire thing over Thanksgiving break. I don't know how much reading that is. Definitely comparable to a fairly lengthy book. I've continued to read every post since. And for the first time since confronting my SSA head-on, I felt a true spark of hope, that there could be a happy and faithful life out there for me and at least one other person equally valiant who understood what I was going through. I spent many hours on my knees in sincere prayer. For the first time ever I didn't feel like fleeing from God regarding this issue when I prayed. Instead, I was able to talk to Him about it and feel his reassurance that it didn't make me an evil person and that He loved me and would help me. I felt genuinely happy, though still confused and sorting things out. Things were a substantial emotional roller coaster for a while as I sorted through the pain of some of the regrettable things I'd gotten into and of continuing to recognize and sort out my various feelings and thoughts. But there was definitely a guiding hope that wasn't there before. This blog was actually begun on the last day of that Thanksgiving break as I felt like I wanted to put my testimony out there as another witness for staying true while experiencing SSA, especially to counter all the contrary voices I'd seen and read.

Since that time, things have continually gotten better. You can read through this blog to see many of those things. I won't describe right now in great detail everything that has happened since then, but here is a brief summary of the main milestones in my own path as it has gotten better:

  • Confiding in and confessing to my bishop, who continues to be a wonderful support and help. He was so kind and understanding as has continued to be so.
  • Finding a surprising number of additional blogs from faithful LDS individuals with SSA. 
  • Connecting with NorthStar, an online support group for Latter-day Saints with SSA, which really opened my mind to the vast number of people out there like me, reassuring me that I truly wasn't alone.
  • From NorthStar, meeting a close group of friends with the issue who I am safe with, but who can understand and help and counsel when I'm having a really hard time. 
  • Telling my parents: a sacred experience I've written about earlier on this blog.
  • Some therapeutic techniques that have helped me truly understand my attractions. I've been able to stop hating myself for liking guys, and be okay with that fact. Meanwhile, while what I've been involved with hasn't been directly focused on diminishing same-sex attractions, it has focused on helping foster and strengthen dormant opposite-sex attractions, and I'm beginning to see that happen. Oddly, my same-sex attractions may have even increased a bit in the process, but so have my opposite-sex ones. So I like more guys AND girls I feel like! This one is definitely still in progress, but I'm filled with hope.
  • I've left behind destructive approaches to the topic and have repented. I feel clean again and have learned many lessons from the mistakes I've made.
My life is not perfect. I'm not perfect. I still have some really rough days emotionally, and face interesting and trying experiences. I still face misunderstanding, and I still haven't had any dating success. But you know what? My life is better, and it is continually getting even better still. As I said earlier, I've come to understand that no matter how we approach our trials, things DO get better emotionally. But how we approach them DOES affect the WAY it gets better. In the Book of Mormon, we find an "It gets better" message from God which recommends the course we must pursue if we not only want life to get better, but ultimately want our eternal life to be the BEST. In Ether 12:4 we read:

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

God wants life to get better for us, and knows it can and will. He promises that hope of things getting better if we trust Him, offering our belief, our faith, and the steadfastness of our good works. That's the simple formula. It has worked wonders for me. When I was pursuing my exploration of this matter in unhealthy ways, I was not happy. I was not guided by hope. I'm sure had I pursued it long enough, I would have found other forms and supplies of happiness in a homosexual relationship. Mormons certainly don't have a monopoly on happiness, and God desires some happiness for all of His children. But, the happiness I feel now comes also with the promise of a more eternally guaranteed and lasting form: a better world and a place at the right hand of God. All things we do in this life will eventually fade and cease, except those things we guarantee for ourselves in the hereafter via covenants with our Father in Heaven. Those covenants bring me an unbeatable source of happiness, and I know they can for you also. Stay faithful and obtain the promises! It does get better, and with God it gets best.

I wish the best truly to you,


P.S. The video featured is only the main video of the BYU It Gets Better Project. There are a couple dozen more which focus more specifically on stories of individuals. Some contain views I don't necessarily agree with, but they certainly have every right to express their differing views, hopefully with the same understanding that they don't decry my own.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Choose the Right (2 Nephi 2:27)

I haven't blogged in a while. This semester has been absolutely consuming me, but at last it is finally ending soon. Meanwhile, the last few days of my life have been far too significant to not blog about. Sometimes Satan pulls out all the stops and tries to pummel you with full force. But you always have a choice.

As many of you know, BYU held a panel discussion this last week, hosted by the Sociology department and the USGA (Understanding Same Gender Attraction) organization--a campus club devoted to raising awareness of this issue. I am not a member of this organization; while I wish them the best in their efforts and applaud some of the work they are doing to build bridges of understanding, I don't always agree with the predominate approach to the subject held by many USGA members. However, I did attend the panel discussion. A lot of it was very good and served its purpose of bridging gaps in understanding. However, I was disappointed that they seemed to present 2 possible outcomes for an LDS SSA life: They had one panelist who was married, and they went to great lengths to underscore the fact that he is an extreme, almost mythical exception to the rule. Two of the other panelists expressed during the discussion that while they live the honor code fully at BYU, they don't likely envision themselves post-BYU living their lives without a same-sex partner. One of them received rather loud applause upon this admission. I found that slightly disconcerting. I have love and respect for those panelists, and especially their bravery. I hope they have very happy and fulfilling lives. However, I am perturbed that the room erupted in applause when it was made known that they fully intended to break the commandments later. To paraphrase loosely what he said from my notes, "I just can't imagine my life without a man, and I want to raise my family and children, with my husband, in a Church setting as best I can. To do otherwise would deny who I am and I could never do that."

I was made to wonder: if I struggled with a strong temptation for greed and deep passion for material goods, do you think I would receive loud applause if I stood in a forum setting at BYU and announced that "I just can't imagine my life paying tithing. I'm going to faithfully attend Church as a non-tithe payer, because to do otherwise would deny who I am and I could never do that." I somehow don't think I'd be met with much applause. Now, don't get me wrong. There are those among us who attend faithfully every week and don't pay their tithing. I don't judge them for it and I love them and hope they always feel welcome attending their meetings. But I ultimately know that no matter how happy the world makes them, it will always be better for them to pay their tithing. They will be blessed for it and find lasting joy. It may take a long time to find it, too! We are not always instantly blessed for our obedience. In fact, obedience can often be painful and difficult. But that's sometimes the point.

Overall, I felt like the panel seemed to present a rather dangerously incomplete view of the LDS population that experiences same-sex attraction. They boiled it down to a rare super-minority that get married, and the alternative view to try remaining active while in a same-sex relationship. I do actually hope that BYU continues to encourage dialogue on this subject in the LDS community, but I hope additional views can be represented. Honestly, through NorthStar I've met LOTS of happily married LDS SSA guys. They are not such a rare minority as the panel seemed to suggest. But even for those who don't get married, it saddens me that the only real alternative suggested was to accept a same sex partner.

Even more sad, this weekend a few people I've connected with, in part inspired by the panel discussion, chose to act on the recommendation and choose a homosexual lifestyle, leaving their covenants behind for a moment of pleasure. I knew when I started connecting with other SSA guys and helping/being helped by them, that sooner or later someone I cared for deeply would probably make that choice. Now it has happened, and I must say it has actually been pretty hard emotionally. Harder than I anticipated. They say they are so happy now that they've made that choice. You know what? I'll bet they are. They expressed needs for companionship that have been filled. That is a very basic human need, so of course filling it would bring happiness. But just because God said that "men are that they might have joy," (2 Nephi 2:25), He never said that everything that makes us feel happy is the correct choice. I also recognize that this doesn't mean they are "lost." The wonderful thing about agency is that even after making a wrong choice, it is still in our power to repent and choose the right in the future.

So, I was thrown off emotionally and spiritually for a bit this weekend (other life stresses weighed upon me at the same time I don't have time to explain here). And I could hear so clearly the voice of the Adversary pulling at me with a very familiar lie: that giving in is inevitable and is the only way to be happy. I have felt him tell me that every day for a long time now. Satan loves to make us think we don't really have a choice, and that sooner or later we are gonna cave in and act on his temptations. He wants us to think that we have no agency in the matter. And sometimes his arguments can be rather convincing too! I must admit that I am so grateful for great friends who helped me and talked me through some depression and intense temptations this weekend. I did feel really discouraged for a while, and must admit I considered how easily I could give in. But God reminded me through my friends and through the Spirit that I can choose! But it is important to understand agency completely to recognize the powers to choose that we HAVE, versus a few things which really ARE beyond our control.

Agency is really important. As latter-day saints, we understand that. In fact, we know we fought a war over it. We highly value the fact that we as humans get to make CHOICES. I think our admirable love for agency can sometimes be the root of some less desirable side effects. For example, there are still those among us who constantly perpetuate the idea that same-sex attraction is something chosen. I sure didn't choose this! It's fascinating to me to think about the idea of choice itself. I very clearly and definitely make many choices every day. But I also know that if the doctor hammers the spot on the knee just right, the leg will kick without my choosing. I cannot always make a choice whether or not something will cause me to be aroused, though I can choose to try avoiding things or situations that will. There are LOTS of things I didn't choose besides just my patterns of attraction--my gender, my face, my nationality, my race. On the other hand, there are many things we CAN choose. As Father Lehi taught anciently:

"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself." (2 Nephi 2:27)

We may not choose our circumstances, but it has been given to us that which is expedient: the ability to choose our response to those circumstances. As appealing as it may be for a moment, it will never be better to choose the wrong, regardless of how alluring and constant the temptation. It is not inevitable that you will make the wrong choice. You can choose.

I've recently grown a deep love for the hymn "Choose the Right" (#239) and its simple but profound message.I especially found the second verse resonating with me this weekend. It says:

Choose the right! Let no spirit of digression
Overcome you in the evil hour.
There's the right and the wrong to ev'ry question;
Be safe through inspiration's pow'r.

I found myself for a while "in the evil hour" this weekend. A strong spirit of digression pulled at me and even suggested specific ways I could abandon my covenants this very weekend. But those digressive spirits cannot overcome you if you do not let them. And, with the help of God and some friends, I CHOSE THE RIGHT today. You can too! It was also pointed out to me tonight how one may substitute the word "Christ" for "right" in the hymn:

Choose the Christ, Choose the Christ
Let Wisdom mark the way before.
In His light, Choose the Christ
And God will bless you ever more. 

On this glorious Easter evening, it is my prayer that you and I will both resolve this night and forever to Choose the Christ--even Him who bled and died that you might be empowered to come back to Him and repent and Choose Him, even if in your past you sometimes have chosen poorly. He died so that you could make those mistakes you did, and now get back on your feet and choose HIM instead, from this moment on.

I'll leave you with this beautiful arrangement of that lovely hymn, as sung by a BYU priesthood choir in General Conference, April 2010:

My best,


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prone to Wander (JS-H 1:28-29)

I want to share with you tonight 2 of the most tender verses I've ever read. They are among my all-time favorites and actually come from Joseph Smith--History in the Pearl of Great Price. I'm not kidding when I say that in my scriptures these 2 verses of his history have more markings and annotations than his First Vision account in verses 15-20 do. That isn't because I don't treasure his First Vision! I simply find that these two verses deeply speak to me and help me not feel so bad about myself sometimes.

They are really long, but so meaningful with many lessons in them, so here goes:

28 During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three--having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me--I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament.
29 In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one. 

So, I've been keeping this blog up, and actually facing my same-sex attraction head-on for the first time ever, for three months now. It has been incredibly therapeutic and I've been overwhelmed at the flood of positive response and connections I've made. But I've also learned some really crucial lessons in that time, and many of them are represented in those two verses above. Here are some key lessons I've learned my first three months:

1. Like Joseph, sometimes we are "persecuted by those who ought to have been [our] friends." Sometimes you will "out" yourself to someone, and they will not respond positively. (Go back and read my first "outing" experience here if you don't believe me!) Not everyone in the Church has learned to handle this topic very well yet. Many are getting better. But many still have a long way to go. I've had a lot more positive experiences since that first one and my closest "straight" friends, my bishop, my parents, and my brother all now know about me. Don't feel down when those who ought to be your friends persecute you. Just like you, they are still progressing on their own spiritual journeys and have lessons to learn.

2. Don't get offended if some try to "endeavor in a proper and affectionate manner to reclaim" you. This is related to the first lesson. Some will persecute you, which is a shame. Others may try to offer you advice, not even having the slightest clue what you are going through, ignorant of how counterproductive some of their advice could potentially be. The gut reaction is to get angry at them in that instant. Resist! Take a deep breath and remember that if they are persecuting you, they probably love you and their advice is a rather tender manifestation of their love for you. They want to help you. Of course, if they genuinely are giving you bad advice, you don't need to take it. But neither do you need to shun them. Be grateful that they care. Joseph didn't really encounter people like this, but wished he had, even though their advice to reclaim him from what was actually right would have been purely erroneous! It should simply serve as a positive contrast to those who persecute.

3. As human beings, we are, as the Hymn "Come Thou Fount" reminds us, truly "prone to wander." And truly did I feel that this week--that I am prone to leave the God I love. Joseph expresses this in the middle of verse 28. In fact, it's so good, I'm going to print it again. He says:

"I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins."

One great warning I've come to be aware of is to beware of who you mingle with. There are great support groups out there through Evergreen, NorthStar, LDS 12-step programs, etc. BUT, no matter how good the organization is as a whole, it is important to be cautious! Most of the people in these groups are well-meaning like you, but some are less pure in their intents. And even two well-meaning SSA LDS guys can soon find themselves in a heap of trouble if they don't exercise caution because the natural man in each one of us makes us particularly prone to wander! Furthermore, I've come to understand that just as important as cautiously avoiding poor company is surrounding yourself with good company that lifts you up. In the past few weeks I've come to see myself come very close to crossing forbidden lines when I was not cautious, but saw myself pulled up and recovered and spiritually fed by other guys, both SSA and OSA, who are stalwart and looking out for me. Those friendships have been so valuable to me!

4. To feel self-loathing is NATURAL, but it is also not good. It is really reassuring to me to know that Joseph Smith himself sometimes felt "condemned for [his] weaknesses and imperfections." I've discussed shame versus godly sorrow in other posts, but a slight review may be helpful here. Shame is an unnecessary feeling of condemnation for who you are that tears you down and tells you you are stuck. Godly sorrow generally focuses on what we've DONE instead, and then motivates us to change who we ARE for the better. Shame tries to perpetuate itself, while Godly Sorrow is always intended to be temporary. One of the worst tricks shame uses to get us to help if perpetuate, is to make us feel guilty about our feelings of shame! If we recognize that we are doing good and that the shame we feel is unfounded, we can get discouraged even further for feeling the shame at all! It seems to me the best way to fight that trap is to bear in mind that sometimes depressing feelings of shame are another natural man symptom that we are working on. It may not be entirely in your control to cast the shame out! It may require help--in fact it will almost certainly require help and healing from God. But don't tell yourself all is lost--other great men before you have felt similarly.

5. God is always willing to give that help and to manifest Himself to us when we ask. This was Joseph's beautiful solution. He prays for forgiveness (which Godly Sorrow will always prompt us to do anyway) and for a manifestation of God. He was hoping very specifically for another vision. That doesn't need to be your prayer though. A manifestation of God is simply a moving of His hand in your life, and that can come in many forms. If you think of the moments that have most strongly built your testimony, I think you'll recognize God's hand in those moments. Pray to Him, and I promise that in some way that will be clear and discernible to you, you will see Him manifest Himself. It may not come immediately; in fact, I've written before how sometimes our prayers seem hollow and unanswered and we are left to feel Forsaken. But in that same earlier post I also pointed out how God's temporary withdrawal can itself be the sign that He is there.

You've made mistakes. Don't beat yourself up. You're human. Trust God, and He will help you improve and get you through what you are going through.

My best,


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Straining at Gnats, Swallowing Camels (Matthew 23:24-28)

I'm going to be completely up front with you: I'm in a rather "soap-box-ish" mood right now as I write this post. But I'm going to try not to get TOO heated in bringing an important topic to the table.

Many of you, especially others of you in Provo, probably found yourselves scratching your heads this week over a viral story revolving around modesty and the BYU honor code. If not, let me tell you the now well-known Valentine's Day story of Brittany Molina, who that day was dressed like this:

She was handed a note by a stranger while she was studying on campus. Initially flattered to receive a secret Valentine, she unfolded it to learn that is was not a love note at all. Instead, it offered her the following rebuke: "You may want to consider that what you're wearing has a negative effect on men (and women) around you. Many people come to this university because they feel safe, morally as well as physically, here. They expect others to abide by the Honor Code that we all agreed on. Please consider your commitment to the Honor Code (which you agreed to) when dressing each day. Thank you."

Yeah, I know. I was confused too. Scroll up again. I couldn't quite see how her appearance would inspire unhealthy thoughts in men (but then again, I'm not the most qualified guy to judge that either). Anyway, clearly it seems like even if the young man was having issues with his thoughts because of what she was wearing, he went about things the wrong way. Definitely overreacted. At least she seems to have been a good sport about it and posted the picture, the story, and the note on Twitter herself, leading to its viral proliferation.

But anyway, while that story is at least to a degree amusing, the next one I have for you is not. With campus abuzz with Brittany's story, I became privy to another conversation about modesty that quickly turned into something quite different. A group of students was discussing how so many girls break the honor code by wearing immodest clothing. This led to a discussion of the evils in the world corrupting the morals we stand for, which led a discussion of how liberals are ruining the world. Ultimately, a conclusion was reached, half-jokingly, to "burn all the liberals, burn all the gays."

This isn't the first time I've heard such things said. And who hasn't heard the classic line of "stick all the gays on an island together" at least once or twice before? It usually doesn't bug me as much as it did this time, and I think the reason was because of their purported devotion to the honor code just a couple minutes before. I thought of the words of Christ when he rebuked the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:24-38, saying,

24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Now, this passage is a little harsh. It is, honestly, TOO harsh for this situation. I am certainly not here to condemn these students to the same degree Christ condemned the Pharisees. However, I think there are some important principles here that apply. Perhaps what bugged me the most is that they were so passionate about maintaining that a skirt that is an inch too short violates the honor code, but apparently don't think that hate speech does. This is what Christ referred to when he spoke of those who would "strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." They made very public displays out of expressing their utter abhorrence for the breaking of tiny technical parts of the law of Moses, but were at the same time violating much more important commands, especially as regards the deeper, principle levels of the law. And that's how I feel we must be acting when we very publicly condemn girls for a few inches of fabric, but disregard what Christ called one of the "Great Commandments," to love our neighbors as ourselves. If you are deficient in love for your fellow men, then I don't care how modestly you dress--you've become merely a whited sepulchre or a vessel clean only on the outside; you "outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy."

Now, let me be clear: I am in no way advocating the swallowing of gnats! There is certainly danger in people pointing to others swallowing camels and using it to justify their own gnat swallowing. By all means I support the principle of modesty and adherence to those outward parts of the BYU honor code. But without clean inner vessels, you aren't really remotely living any code of honor. There is no honor in making degrading comments about others who are different from you. In April Conference of 2006, Pres. Hinckley spoke about the evils of hate speech, specifically regarding race, though it seems his remarks can be equally applied to any hate speech made based on differences in orientation, religion, race, gender, or any other factor. He said:

"Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ...

"Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

"Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

"Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such."

Can it be any more clear than that? 
Now, that being said I must also add a caveat that I've seen the door swing in the other direction sometimes. I've sadly seen other same-sex attracted men get tangled up in deep sexual transgression while decrying a lack of tolerance in others. Don't let the gnats of others allow you to try justifying your camels! Will others judge you whether you are righteous or not? YES THEY WILL! But does their judging make your sins excusable? Absolutely not. And that applies to any sin and every person. 

My suggestion? Take further advice from Christ given on another occasion when he encouraged us to look for the beams in our own eyes before removing the mote (i.e. twig) in our neighbor's. Focus on discovering whatever gnats or camels you are swallowing and eliminate those rather than decrying the wretched evils of what your neighbor is doing. I mean, honestly, how likely are you to help your neighbor when you approach him in a spirit of self-righteousness and without love in your heart? Not very likely. Work on your own inner vessels, and let it begin with the great commandments: to love God, and to love your fellow beings. 

I hope I haven't sounded TOO bitter in this post. I honestly am sure that those students on the whole are great people and maybe just need a little guidance in a few things. So do I. Don't we all? 

My best,


Monday, February 13, 2012

God's Small Ministrations (Ether 3:18)

This is going to be a really short, but really happy post. First of all, I just want to thank you all for the overwhelming amount of sharing that has been done with my last post, "Grace and Godly Sorrow." In the one week since I wrote it, it has sky-rocketed to quickly overtake "Love thy Neighbor" as my most read post of all time! That was quite a surprise. Thank you all for the loving emails of support you've sent my way. I love you all so much!

So, as I said, this is going to be a really short and simple post. I ran across an absolutely touching verse yesterday in Ether 3:18, which says:

"And he [Christ] ministered unto him [the brother of Jared] even as he ministered unto the Nephites; and all this, that this man might know that he was God"

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like Moroni was struck with the same sense of awe as he wrote this verse that I am struck with while reading it. Moroni reflects back on the story from 3 Nephi, recorded by his father Mormon, and how the Savior there came and ministered personally to a large multitude of people. And now here He is again taking the time to minister, but this story takes place 2000+ years earlier on a mountain to a single individual. God loves the Brother of Jared enough to minister to him very personally here.

In reading this short but very sweet verse, I was reminded of the many times and ways that my Father has chosen to make Himself known to me throughout my life. Sometimes it is while I am at Church, among others--like the Nephites and Bountiful. Other times, it is a very personal one-on-one experience, even as the Brother of Jared had. But He DOES minister to us. Many times it is in the realization of tiny blessings that He can be found. Look carefully at your circumstances each day, and I'll bet you'll be surprised how present He is.

I know God lives. I know He loves me. I know He loves you. He wants to minister to you, but you must let Him, and often must first call upon Him. Let Him help you, and look for Him carefully each day.

My Best,


Monday, February 6, 2012

Grace and Godly Sorrow (Moroni 10:32-33)

In December I wrote a post called "Grace and Gasoline" that discussed the necessity of Grace for our salvation, comparing it to gasoline in a car. If you haven't read that post, you may want to go back and read it first. I suppose it isn't essential to understand this one, but I may draw back on things I said in that post and assume you know what I'm talking about. You've been warned.

Anyway, the subject of Grace has been on my mind a lot more the past few weeks, and I felt like it would be helpful to write another post on the subject. In my earlier post on Grace, I emphasized its importance and the fact that it is an enabling power. In this post, I'd like to discuss more specifically HOW it acts as that enabling power, including some specific ways I've seen Grace manifest in my own life and the divine role of Godly Sorrow in the process of sanctification, as opposed to its counterfeit, shame.

So, let's dig right into it, shall we? In that last post I proposed a rather in-depth analogy comparing Grace to gasoline, enabling us to move forward. It's a mighty nice thought, but do we see examples in the real world? I think even recognizing that Grace somehow plays a role along the way, we fail sometimes to grasp what that role is. I'm sure I still do in many ways. But I've recently come to see very clearly at least a little manifestation of Grace acting as the fuel which propelled me forward. I want to begin with a scripture from literally the closing verses of the Book of Mormon. In Moroni 10:32-33 we read:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God. 
33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. 

And so, in these verses, among the very last words of Moroni before he sealed up the plates, we see God's great plan revealed: to make us perfect and holy. Note that Moroni doesn't neglect our part (in the analogy, if you remember, it is still up to us to drive the car). Thus, we must put forth our effort to deny ourselves of all ungodliness. In other words, our desire and action need to be there in order for all of this to work--God won't force us to improve if we don't desire it. But the gas is absolutely essential for the car to move forward when we push down on the peddle. Moroni here uses one of my favorite words to describe this perfection process: SANCTIFICATION. It is sad to me how few latter-day saints understand this concept. The word itself literally means "to make holy." It describes what Grace DOES. It is what life is all about: conversion. We are hopefully throughout out lives constantly in the process of being converted from raw, natural men and women, into divine beings. Sometimes we choose instead to be converted in the opposite direction. But with God's help we can choose godliness, thanks to Grace and the power of sanctification.

So, now let me humble myself a bit and share some of my own experiences with you and how I've seen grace manifest in my life. I've written on two previous occasions about a friend of mine I find especially attractive who I've code named "Methuselah" for the purposes of this blog. In the previous 2 posts I've written about him, I alluded to the concept of impure thoughts and how we can keep them at bay. Those are great posts of advice on how to help keep thoughts clean--at least our side of it. Those posts detail well how we put our foot on the gas and steer the car, as per the road trip analogy of Grace. But overcoming impure thoughts I had about "Methuselah" required more than my own effort. Today I want to tell you that Grace changed my heart, enabling me to overcome those thoughts.

When I confessed to my bishop about the thoughts I'd had, he gave me a beautiful analogy. He said that there's nothing wrong with a bird flying over our heads, and perhaps sometimes even landing there! But if we let him build a nest in our hair, that is entirely our fault. Sadly, in the case of "Methuselah" several months ago I had begun to let the bird build a nest. I allowed myself to conjure up some pretty awful fantasies involving the two of us in my head. Now, once again, my previous posts (which are linked to in the previous paragraph) detail the things I did personally to overcome those impure thoughts. If you are struggling with keeping your thoughts pure, please read the advice I offer there for "chasing the bird away" so to speak. But also keep reading this post, because I think the most important part of the equation is relying on Christ to help with the parts we can't do on our own. You see, at the time I genuinely enjoyed those fantasies. I DIDN'T WANT to forsake them. But, I DID recognize the deficiency in my desires. I was able to start putting forth the effort to change before I even entirely desired to, but above all I prayed to God to help my desires change. And at the time I left it at that and moved on and was able to gradually clean up my thoughts. And while I recognized the change in thoughts, I didn't realize along the way how much my desires had changed until this last week actually.

As I mentioned in previous posts, one of the ways I coped with my attraction to "Methuselah" and dispelled bad thoughts was by developing a healthy friendship with him. I've recently done some fun social things with him and have gotten to know him really quite well. This last week, reflecting on the fun friendship and spiritual ways I've gotten to know him also, I was suddenly reminded of the profane thoughts I had about him back in October. In that moment I experienced a huge wave of what the scriptures call "Godly Sorrow." There was no fondness for those thoughts. Only disgust. I honestly couldn't believe that I'd ever allowed my thoughts to go there. I felt sick to my stomach that I'd let such a pure and innocent person be the unwitting victim of such awful thoughts. I felt great sadness; like I'd hurt him very personally. I felt like I'd profaned something very sacred--and indeed I had. But then I was hit with the realization of how sacred that feeling of remorse was. I was reminded of my prayers to God that He would with His Grace help change my desires, something I was not able to accomplish on my own, despite my best efforts. I was able to do lots of other things to cut the thoughts off, but the desires had remained. But in the last few months, my efforts plus grace teamed up and I was transformed. In at least one dimension of my character, I experienced sanctification. Through God's Grace, my heart was changed. I no longer desire unchaste thoughts for "Methuselah" or anyone else now. In fact, the thought disgusts me now! I've been filled with a renewed sense of sacred regard for my fellow men. And I am so full of gratitude for it!

So, let me wrap this post up by commenting a bit more on that feeling of Godly Sorrow. It is very natural to feel sorrow for sin. In fact, this week it was a welcome tender mercy from God that helped me recognize His Grace: it was that sorrow that helped me realize how much cleaner I am as a person, and how far Grace has brought me. Now, I would warn you all to learn to discern between Godly Sorrow and its counterfeit, shame. I recently heard the difference between the two defined as follows: Godly Sorrow is embodied by sadness for sins we've committed, and always serves as a healthy motivator for change, or in some cases a reminder of the change we've made. Shame, on the other hand, is fueled by self-loathing. While Godly Sorrow says, "the things you've done are bad," shame says, "YOU are bad person." Shame undermines the person's self-worth and thus tries to serve to keep us stuck in sin. Shame discourages us and tells us that because we are sinners, why should we even try to change? Or why should we like ourselves? Shame is what can breed suicidal thoughts. Satan wants you to feel shame, and then will tell you it is Godly Sorrow, in order to try to make you believe that you DESERVE to feel such hateful things about yourself. DON'T LISTEN TO THOSE LIES! You are a soul of great worth. You deserve to feel loved by God, because He does love you! He loves you enough to have sent His Son to atone for you, so that you could experience the Grace and Sanctification that will make you more like Him. Along the way, you will naturally feel some Godly Sorrow for your imperfections, but I hope you don't ever let shame hold you too tightly or too long. As the beautiful hymn "I Stand All Amazed" puts it, sometimes recognizing God's atoning love for us can leave us "confused at the grace that so fully he proffers" us. Because I do not yet love perfectly as He does, I too am continually confused by that Grace. Oh it is wonderful, that He should care for me enough to die for me!

I hope this second post on Grace has been helpful. I'm sure it won't be my last on this subject. Thank you for reading. I love you all so much!

My best,