Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Make Me Whole

For as long as I can remember, I have felt that I was broken, defective, unfit for the kingdom.  I'm sure that I was not alone in this; I don't know if I've met anyone experiencing same-sex attraction who hasn't struggled with this thought-process before. I have begged our Father in heaven to heal me countless times.  Frankly, I still do, but I know that the Atonement of His Only Begotten Son is real.  I have felt its healing warmth coursing through my veins and lifting the suffocating weight from my chest.  I know that as He healed His brothers and sisters amidst His mortal ministry, Christ can heal us.  He can heal you.  No pain, no guilt, no addiction, no damning shame is beyond His reach.  And, as unbelievable as it may seem, He wants to.  He wants to bear your cross.  He gave His life in case you decided to follow and accept Him.  He has more faith in us than we have in ourselves, because He knew us before our birth, before the separation of the land from the sea and light from the darkness.

I know you're probably growing tired of songs, but, as I've said before, music is an avenue through which the Spirit most effectively communicates to my soul.

Yea Lord,
I believe that thou art the Christ which should come -
The Son of God!
But I do not understand...

Touch my eyes
and bid them see
that my gaze might pierce the veil
and behold the wondrous scene
that in dreams I've long beheld!
Oh touch my heart
and bid it know
that every sorrow here is but a moments tear,
and thou wilt make me whole again!

Touch my ears
and bid them hear
all the glory of thy truth,
that my hope might come of faith
and no more require proof!
Oh touch my heart and bid it know
that while in darkness here
the Lord is ever near,
and thou wilt make me whole again

Then touch my lips
and bid them sing
songs of everlasting praise,
that my soul might then believe
and give thanks through all my days!
Oh touch my heart, 
and bid it know
that every breath I take 
is by thy tender grace,
and thou wilt make me whole -
and thou wilt make me whole - 
Oh thou wilt make me whole again!

In Mark 2, the Savior heals a man sick with palsy. Many times I have skimmed over this miracle and appreciating that the Lord gave this man a functional body. However, as I have been traveling and teaching, I've started to understand a deeper truth and significance to this occurrence. I've included the Church's Bible video depiction of this miracle to illustrate:

Those who lowered the ill man showed utmost faith by going through the trouble of lowering him through the roof! I'm the video, they didn't keep their ends of the rope with them, either. They knew that Christ could and would heal their loved one if they could only get to Him. 

The true miracle was not that the man was able to take up his bed and walk. Truly, the Messiah proved His divine mission by forgiving the man of his sins first. He shows what is truly important. Of course He could remove all of the pains of this mortal stranger, but to show that He truly was the Redeemer of Israel, the Lord risked accusation of blasphemy to make this man whole. 

What's the difference between being healed and being made whole? I would describe being healed as having a limitation or an uncomfortable stimulus removed, at least for a time.

To be whole, on the other hand, is to be brought back into good graces with God, to gain a stronger appreciation for one's purpose and relationship with Jesus. It is reconciliation with the Father. It is a return to dignity and spiritual homeostasis. 

While my chronic illnesses have yet to be removed from my own bitter cup and my attractions often bring me pain, the Lord is making me whole. I'd rather be whole than healed. The Savior's atoning sacrifice gives me opportunities to become whole with my same-set attraction, to become the man I was meant to be. It makes me grateful for adversity and plot twists. I rest assured that there is a reason for all things. 

How is Christ making you whole?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Art of Surrender

One of the most difficult lessons we need to learn in mortality is the art of surrender. I've discovered that I have a problem with wanting to control everything, though I don't believe I'm alone in frantically confusing what I can and can't control.  

Peter had to surrender his logic to follow the Savior out onto the water, defying physics. Naaman followed the seemingly ridiculous instructions of the prophet before being cured of his leprosy. Abraham was asked to give up his beloved son, Isaac. Moses was led into the Red Sea, placing the lives of the Israelites into the hands of Jehovah.

Coined by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Serenity Prayer" has been a consistent asset in my personal pursuit of progress:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Sometimes we feel it's impossible to surrender our wills to the Father, that our hearts yearn too strongly for things that we can frankly have but our Father forbids. How could the Lord allow our hearts and minds to be so fiercely conflicted and expect us to give in to His will?

We must remember that our Heavenly Father also surrendered control - over us! He surrendered control by giving us the ability to choose Him or to choose ourselves. He's familiar with sacrifice, having sacrificed His sinless Son to grant opportunities to His rebellious children. When we tell ourselves life isn't fair, perhaps we're right. But was Christ's suffering fair?

I used to think that I hated everyone, but I've found that I have the opposite problem; my love for others becomes maladaptive at times, resulting in codependency. When people I trust choose to leave the path, my soul is shredded and my heart breaks. What could I have done better? How am I to save them? Was this my fault somehow? The questions are endless.

I am learning, as painful as it is to admit, that I am not the Savior. I cannot live others' lives for them, nor should they live their lives for me. No man is an island. Our behavior affects those we love, but our loved ones aren't in control of us. We each have control over our own choices and will have to answer for our own decisions. Because I cannot make choices for others and cannot in and of myself save them from the consequences of their actions, I can either worry fruitlessly or I can follow the admonition of the Savior for us to cast on him our every care. 

Cast thy burden upon the Lord,
And he shall sustain thee.
He never will suffer the righteous to fall.
He is at thy right hand.
Thy mercy, Lord, is great
And far above the heav'ns.
Let none be made ashamed
That wait upon thee.

(Schubring and Mendelssohn)

I would die for my friends and family without hesitation, and I hope that they know that. But my life cannot satisfy the demands of justice or mercy in the lives of others. Only Christ's can. He's already paid the price, so why do we try to pay it ourselves?

While I was still in diapers, I became best friends with another boy. We grew up together and had each other's backs against bullies and other such losers. Then his family life fell apart and I was ill-equipped to help. But still he said that he would stay true to the faith. So I was settled, thinking that he was right.

Months later, he told me that he was no longer coming to seminary because he was leaving the Church. My world stopped turning. I was crying for days. Here I thought that I could always turn to him and he'd be there for me. He said he wouldn't change in any aspect of his life except that he didn't believe in the Church, but, unfortunately, this proved to be false. His personality changed as he began to throw one commandment after another out the window. I tried to hang out with him on occasion, but he was a different person. We both moved out of town and almost completely lost contact with each other.

I obsessed over what I could have done differently, how I could have responded better or testified stronger. I blamed myself for a long time.

While I was on my mission, another best friend (since kindergarten) left the Church as well. Again, bitter tears and self-blame. I couldn't believe that this was happening again. If I had been a better example, if I had steered him away from harmful influences more persistently, and so on.

I have come to accept the choices of these two wonderful men and no longer grieve. Do I feel sorrow and miss them? Yes, absolutely. But I recognize that they have their agency and I have mine.

A good friend went through a breakup and I did my best to help her understand the importance of surrendering what we can't control to the Savior. He knows what to do to make things right, anyway. Why don't we trust Him more?

I wish that I could learn this lesson by now, but it just doesn't get easier to surrender my friends to their choices. I know, I know - codependency much? As I've progressed on my journey with same-sex attraction I have met so many wonderful people with the same struggles as I have. Our life experiences are painfully similar and it's incredibly easy to relate to one another. Obviously, this lends itself to close friendships.

An unfortunate reality in our community is that people run out of strength and drift away on occasion. It's been difficult to see such beautiful people make mistakes and get stuck on the wrong path. When I found out that a loved one had given up in this regard, I broke. I sobbed every day for a week and lost about 10 pounds as food seemed to turn to ash in my mouth.

Perhaps I had become codependent with this individual, but I've never felt such devastation before in my life. I prayed constantly and fasted and wrote his name on the temple roll. I reached out and, without giving details, asked dozens of people to pray for me and my friend. I begged for the ministry of angels.

It came to the point where I was so sorrowful that I felt that I would only have peace through death. My parents were panicking as were some of my friends. I couldn't function in school or in my social relationships.

I fretted and worried about what to say to my wandering friend, begging the Father to help me understand why it had to be him. What was I supposed to learn from this experience?

I even asked Heavenly Father to punish me instead of my friend because he had been through too much already. After I said this prayer, I recognized that my codependency had gone too far.

I expressed my fears to this friend and expressed how much I loved him. I told him that I respected his agency and his path, that I didn't want him to base his decisions around what I'd want. I reminded him that his relationship with the Savior was sacred and it was his. I acknowledged the horrific trials he'd experienced throughout his life and I wished that I could provide the answers to his questions. I testified that I had only witnessed miracles after I had endured in faith when I thought despair and hell-fire were about to consume me, and that I had to come to know the Savior.

I then explained that I didn't start to understand the Law of Chastity until I really started to understand the Law of Consecration.

I told him that I loved him enough to let him make his own decisions.

While sitting with an old friend, we poured our hearts out to each other as is our custom. After listening to my emotional whirlwind, my friend offered "In my not so humble opinion, I think the lesson that you're supposed to learn from this trial is that you have to surrender the happiness of your friend to the Savior."

I believe that she was exactly right (she's always right). In my prayers, I offered control over this situation over the Lord (as if it was in my control to begin with, bless my heart). I told the Father that I would rather surrender my crush* than lose this friend to the gay lifestyle. In that moment, I recognized that I was, in a way, offering a consecrated sacrifice to the Father. I offered the fierce love that I've had for my crush for so many years in order to bless the life of my friend, for whom I had pure, Christlike love. I gave my burden to the Lord, seeming to watch it go like a prayer boat over a waterfall.

The Lord has answered my prayers and led this friend back to the path, but the process has been brutal. Our spirits might as well reach the pearly gates beaten and worn as a reflection of what we're dragged through in mortality!

I believe that we're taught about agency so much that sometimes we develop a controlling mindset. When the Lord asks us to cast our burdens upon Him, He means it. I've found so much peace in handing over what I can't control to Him. The humility involved softens our hearts and opens them to hidden blessings.

I know it's hard to let go. Sometimes I have to listen to Kelly Clarkson to get over the loss of a friendship since such an event is the closest thing I've experienced to a breakup. Pitiful, huh?

However, sacrifice is a central principle of the Gospel (i.e. Tithing, the Sabbath, Obedience). As we give up the things we hold dear when God asks them of us, He in return showers us with the answers and hope that we seek.

*Separate person - maybe a post for another time