Thursday, December 14, 2017

Merry Christmas!

This by far is my favorite time of year. This is not necessarily due to the presents I'll be receiving or the opportunity I'll have to eat protein at my parent's house. While these are wonderful aspects of the Christmas season, the music seems to touch me the most. The myriad of songs welcome the coming of the Savior. It's easy to get discouraged with finals and the stress of travel, yet these hymns bring me peace and hope.

Sometimes we experience a sense of despair when we realize that our lives aren't going to turn out the way that we had hoped and planned and that some dreams won't come true in this life. However, the remembrance of Christ's birth fills my soul with hope that I am safe in His scarred hands and that there is a divine plan, even for me!

I know that I often fall short of the glory of God and that I'm far from an adequate representative of Christ, but I also know that we have a living Savior who loves us deeply just as we are, and that He loves us too much to let us stay as we are. When I want to give up and sulk in stagnant mediocrity, He alone pulls me out of my head and inspires me to face another day through His eternal grace.

May we remember his season that Christ is the perfect gift, freely given to our unworthy souls, and that when we "light the world," we give a tiny token of our appreciation to the Savior of Mankind.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

North Star Christmas Fireside!

Click here at 6 p.m. MST on December 9th to watch North Star's Christmas Fireside!

Saturday, October 14, 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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Life-Saving Testimony

Decades ago my father took a troop of scouts down to the jungles of Chihuahua, Mexico, to bring non-perishable food to Native American clinics as an Eagle project (things were a little different back then). Near the completion of their trip, my dad ran out of gas after dark. He left his companions with the truck as he walked the empty road in search of a gas station.

Eventually the truck disappeared from view and he was completely alone. In the distance headlights appeared, causing a wave of relief to pass over him. He stuck out his thumb hopefully, and to his delight the car screeched to a halt. Four men got out of the car and asked him what was going on, and after explaining the situation, they invited him into their vehicle.

As my father entered the car, beer cans crunched beneath his feet and he tried not to cough on the stench of tobacco. He was put in the middle seat, scrunched between two strangers. The hope he had felt vanished as he began to suspect that something was amiss.

They eventually came to a gas station, but it was closed. This didn't stop these strangers. They kicked open the door, terrifying the teenage clerk as he woke up behind the register. The men yelled at the boy, telling him to get my dad some gas, and the boy hastily complied. As they left, my dad sheepishly thanked the young man and paid him more than the gas cost.

Gas in hand, my dad returned to the car, which tore out of the gas station. As their speed grew faster and faster, my father realized that they were going the wrong way. He tried to speak, but fear overcame him. He knew that this detour was intentional.

Soon their vehicle pulled off the road. Through the windows my father perceived several men standing in the dark, only illuminated by their cigarettes and dim moonlight. The two men that sat on either side of him left the vehicle but were replaced instantly with new strangers. He heard arguing outside regarding "the gringo."

The man in the front passenger seat turned around and looked at my dad. After taking a long drag, he blew his lungs' worth of smoke into my dad's face. My father closed his eyes to try to keep himself from panicking.

"You wanna smoke?" the man said, and my father's heart began to race. His instant instinct was to accept the cigarette in an attempt to make peace with the strangers. However, he knew what his Heavenly Father would want. He quivered as he said "No, thank you."

As expected, the man leaned back and peered through narrowed eyes. In confusion he asked "You don't smoke?"

"No sir," my father replied. "I'm a Mormon."

The man's eyes widened for a moment, then he stared off into space. "I was a Mormon many years ago"

This revelation came as a bit of a shock to my dad. They didn't have time to discuss it because the man suddenly got out of the car and walked over to the arguing crowd of men, leaving the door open.

My father, being fluent in Spanish, overheard the debate and realized that most of the men wanted to kill him because my father had "seen too much." My dad began to pray for his family whom he anticipated would soon be fatherless.

Suddenly, the strangers on either side of him were replaced with the original men and the man who had been in the passenger seat jumped into the driver's seat. They pulled out and sped back to my father's truck and his waiting friends. The driver looked my dad in the eyes and desperately whispered "Get out of here as fast as you possibly can, do you hear me?!" My dad quickly emptied the gas can into his tank and took off into the night.

What would have happened if my father hadn't told the truth and stood as a witness of Christ? His sole defender, standing between him and death, didn't seem to care until my dad essentially bore his testimony.

Will we always be spared of pain or discomfort when we bear our testimonies? No. The scriptures are full of examples where that simply is not the case. However, we shouldn't let this intimidate us.

Sometimes, when I bear my testimony, people feel judged, not necessarily from the words I say, but that I have chosen a path where morality isn't relative. I really dislike that people feel judged simply by my position. I try to be Christlike and not condescending in the bearing of my testimony.

Perhaps I've digressed. My point is that our Heavenly Father is aware of our testimonies and forgives us of our sins when we testify of Him (D&C 62:3), and in some situations enacts miracles as a result of our witnesses (Daniel 3:26).

I know that the Church is true and beautiful. Following the commandments is not always easy, but it is simple. Our Heavenly Father hears each word that we say. Let us find hope in His grace and bear witness of Him at all times, in all things, and in all places.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Splitting the Sky

The Lord once encountered a particular young man, a man who had kept the commandments throughout his life and wondered what he lacked yet to be saved in the kingdom of the Father. Christ told this young man that he needed to sell all that he had and give it to the poor (Luke18:18). To follow Christ, we must show that we put Him first in our lives. 

This couple showed an incredible caliber of faith as they chose to follow Christ. Can you imagine the heart-wrenching nature of their sacrifice for the Savior? How do your personal sacrifices compare?

I won't be surprised if I get some flack for posting this, but these women are an amazing example to me.

What are you willing to surrender to the Lord?

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?

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Problem With "Why"

Mortals have a tendency to ask "why?" in response to the trials of life. It's a natural instinct that I'm certainly not immune to. You may ask this question to determine a poor decision on your part that can be undone in order to remove the afflicting stimulus. We definitely create a lot of our problems, but pain is a common denominator in the lives of all who live in a fallen world.

However, all too commonly we ask "why" in a different fashion. "Why me?" "Why did this have to happen to me?!"

Elder Richard G. Scott taught that "'Why' questions will lead you into blind allies. They put your intelligence at odds with God's ... It does no good to ask questions that reflect opposition to the will of God ... This life is an experience of profound trust. Trust in Jesus."

We're taught to pray for good things, yet sometimes we go about it the wrong way.

Every single question we have will be answered, in this life or the next. We learn from the scriptures that Christ can and will fix all that is unfixable, which He exemplified when He raised Lazarus from the dead.

According to Elder Scott,"When you pray with real conviction..."Please let me know Thy will" are in the strongest position to receive the maximum help from your loving father."

One could argue that you can't be have sincere prayer if you are seeking your own will, but deep and sincere prayer only comes when you seek His will. Our prayers aren't meant to change the will of God, but rather to show God our hearts through humility and submission. These qualify us for blessings which our Father already wishes to bestow upon us. 

Elder Scott clarified that "'Ask and ye shall receive'...does not assure that you get what you want, but you will get what you need from a Father that loves you perfectly."

This statement hit me pretty hard, because there have been so many times when I have asked God to take away my chronic illness, my emotional turmoil, or my same-sex attraction, yet none of these have been taken from me. I could interpret this as a lack of divine love or existence if I chose to. However, in reality the Lord recognizes that I need these things in my life. I need to suffer physical pain and loneliness to become whom He wants me to become. I don't know why exactly. I do know that His plan is perfect. The Lord is not a mere genie; He is the omnipotent creator.

Elder Scott taught to never ask "why," but rather to ask "What can do I need to learn from this?" "What can I do to help my situation?" "What can I do to remember my blessings?" "What am I to change?"

This year I experienced an emotionally-traumatic trial, but I remembered what Elder Scott taught and rather than shaking my fist at the heavens, I sought the lessons I was meant to learn from this trial. I haven't fully recovered from this experience, but I have learned far more about myself and my weaknesses than I would have had I turned my back on the Lord. Elder Christofferson quoted, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." This is why He allows even His obedient children to experience adversities. My own pride and doubt had set me up for a divine chastening. 

Recently my friend's brother suddenly passed away. This friend recounted how this brother's wife was so strong in the face of her trials. Not only had she lost her husband, but she had already buried a previous husband a few months into her first marriage. When asked how she coped with such burdens and persisted in faith, she replied, "I will never question God's will even if it's the worst thing in the world. I trust Him more than I trust myself, and because of that I can have confidence in His blessings."

My trials pale in comparison to this wise woman's. I've never lost an immediate family member, and I shudder to know that someday I'll have to face that pain. I'm grateful that she bore her testimony of trust in the Lord, especially the line "I trust Him more than I trust myself."

How often do we battle the Lord's logic with our own? My thoughts often stray into that territory, but I'm really trying to be better about that. His ways are higher than ours, as are His thoughts. So, rather than doubt Him, let us rest assured that things will work out!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Reaction to 12-year-old Testimony

If you haven't seen the viral video of a 12-year-old girl coming out to her congregation from the pulpit yet, you will. Her prepared speech was filmed by friends (which is against the rules) during testimony meeting in May.

Obviously this is a sensitive issue and I'll try not to step on too many toes. 

I know people who have come out during testimony meetings, and it's gone well for them. I could see her experience being similar had she born her testimony in a similar fashion.

She did not.

This preteen brought a written speech which otherwise began following the pattern of a typical testimony. This involves testifying of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Christ. She expressed her belief that our Heavenly Parents intentionally created her with same-sex attractions and that They loved her for who she was.

Unfortunately, she then testified that God would approve of her living a lesbian lifestyle. As made unmistakably clear by repeated proclamations of the Church and prophets of God, same-sex marriage and similar homosexual relationships are a violation of Christ's Law of Chastity. Therefore, as sexual immorality is a serious sin, it's safe to conclude that proclaiming that such behaviors are worthy in the eyes of God is, if nothing else, inappropriate for a testimony meeting. 

It is at this moment that the bishop needed to make a split-second decision. I assume he anticipated further false doctrine to be taught to a captive audience within the walls of a consecrated church. 

The modern gay movement contests that children of younger and younger ages should be exposed to non-traditional sexual partnerships in an effort to normalize such relations, so obviously this testimony plays right into their narrative. However, it is the responsibility and right of parents to educate their children regarding sexuality. As this testimony discussed sexual issues, an interference from the presiding authority seems justifiable. 

I'm not trying to attack this young girl, especially since I believe her intentions are pure. I recognize her bravery as revealing something so personal to the congregation is understandably difficult. Her outraged mother, an ex-Mormon, might not have the best motives for taking this story to the press. 

I feel sorry for the girl and hope that she listened to the affirming words of her bishop as he testified of God's love for His children. There are forces in play that we don't know about, and I hope that she isn't being used to push the envelope further. Unfortunately, I believe that this is the case.

I testify that this is the true church of Jesus Christ and that His ways are higher than our ways. We don't understand His reasoning completely as we are mortals living in a fallen world, but I know that we can trust Him and His servants, the prophets. I know that the Lord does love our brothers and sisters who live homosexual lifestyles. This does not mean that He condones sexual behavior based on the sincerity of its affection. He cannot deny His word. I know that as we live His gospel we are entitled to His promises, whether in this life or the next, because He and His word are pure and unchanging. His path is the only way to true happiness.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Things Don't Go According to Plan

Something that I've had to learn on my journey is that things usually won't turn out the way I've planned or hoped. However, if I keep the commandments, things work out the way the Lord intends, which is always superior to anything I could come up with!

I love and adore the faith of this couple as they sought to live God's plan for them. Check out the video!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Doctrine Lady

I was recently asked by @TheDoctrineLady to write a guest post for her blog explaining which doctrines of the Gospel kept me in the Church. The following is an excerpt from that post:

"Everyone on the planet chose to come here by accepting Christ’s Plan of Salvation. We are all children of the Supreme creator of the universe, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. The God who parted the Red Sea and whose power broke the bonds of death and hell. We are children of deity. Now, if I were to live a lifestyle contrary to the commandments and framework of God’s plan, am I living true to myself as a son of God? Absolutely not. Neither am I being true to Him. I often tag my posts with #TrueToHim to illustrate what it means to be truly authentic as a child of God. If we are being true to Him, we are most certainly being true to ourselves."

To read the entirety of the post, visit the Doctrine Lady's blog!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Miracle of the Baklava

Tonight, a group of us North Star peeps got together in our home state at one of my favorite restaurants, Pita Jungle. As a manifestation of my adulthood, I ordered dessert for dinner. The scrumptious pistachio and walnut baklava shown below was all that I had hoped it would be.

The Lord is willing to humor us when our hearts are in the right place (and probably even when they're not, on occasion). One of my favorite stories of my mission involve such a tender mercy.

*This is the part where a Provo Bro would say "This one time on my mission," but as I am a renaissance man, I'll package the tale differently*

As I imagine many young people experience, my heart was heavy and my mind was full of doubt while I was being trained. I didn't feel competent as a missionary, my anxiety catching my tongue and my depression dampening my connection with the Spirit. I wondered who I was kidding when I thought I could complete a full-time mission.

One day as we were helping an elderly member reorganize her dangerously-crowded closet, I was fretting over not having people to teach and worrying about having to talk to people in order to make that happen. Overwhelmed, my thoughts turned to comfort food (don't judge me; I know you do it, too). I thought, "Heavenly Father, I know this is so trivial, but if Thou couldst send me some ice cream, I know I'd get through today."

Upon our exit from the lobby of the senior living facility, a friendly man stopped us to ask us how were doing. He wasn't a member, but had read the Book of Mormon and liked it. He was making his rounds as a Schwan deliveryman, and he was in a hurry, but he asked us if we'd like some ice cream sandwiches.

I was stunned. I thought it was possible that this was simply a coincidence, but I thanked the Lord all the same and finished the day with a smile.

A few weeks ago, I was dealing with a rough patch of my chronic illness, but I wasn't very open about it because I didn't want my trainer to be more disappointed with me. I told my mission president about it in my weekly letter, but I minimized it so that I wouldn't be sent home. The Lord certainly got an earful several times a day. I decided to try Him again as I prayed in desperation "Heavenly Father, if Thou couldst send me some marzipan, I'd know that Thou art with me."

That day, I got home from exchanges to find a package from my mission president's wife, addressed to me! Inside I found some herbs and essential oils which she hoped would help with my pain. Additionally, her note explained that she remembered that I spoke German and so she included a bar of marzipan she had brought home from Germany. I wanted to cry.

A few weeks later, we had spent our day tracting and faced consistent rejection. We decided to visit one of my favorite people in that area, a little old lady who kept a gun on her at all times. Needless to say, she was a spitfire. We had helped her to quit drinking and were teaching her the lessons.

She had anticipated our arrival, so as we sat down she exclaimed "Would you guys like some BAKLAVA?!" She presented a tray of beautifully-glazed baklava. I felt the blood drain from my face. I knew this had to be a miracle sent by God.

I stopped asking the Lord for specific foods after that because I didn't want to treat Him like an exotic vending machine, but I've never forgotten those tender mercies. Sometimes God presents us with such inconsequential gifts, which we easily fail to recognize as manifestations of His love.

Looking back on these heartwarming memories causes me to wonder how often I mistake tender mercies as coincidences or even overlook them altogether.

I know that the Lord is intimately aware of our prayers, even those unspoken. Like a loving earthly father, He humorously grants us unimportant wishes to signify His eternal affection for His children. So while sugary treats aren't long-term solutions to the turbulent struggles of the soul, sometimes all one needs is a little junk food from the Lord to make it through the day.

How does the Lord subtly send you tokens of His affection?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Problem of Pain

In the fringes of my dreams I sense it. The tone of the characters becomes sharper as the pressure builds. Then, right before I open my eyes, it washes over my stiff body.

The Pain.

My alarm reverberates throughout the residual cacophony of ringing in my ears. I know that once I move to shut it off I’ll sense the tenacious soreness around my spine. Nothing compares to the stabbing pain in my temples and the searing light of the hallway.

That was a good night. Sometimes I’ll struggle with the nauseating pain throughout my dreams. On occasion, the pain in my head will become so severe that I jolt awake and scream into my pillow to avoid waking my roommates (in this particular situation it seriously feels like someone is ramming a screwdriver into the side of my head).

This pain started around the time that I was sexually abused as a child (some wonder if perhaps this is some sort of somatic disorder). The doctors could never figure out what was wrong – my case was rather unusual. We discovered that genetically I'm resistant to many pain killers, so after years of fruitless tests and various medications, I eventually gave up.

Pain, as I’m sure you’re aware, can easily affect every aspect of your life. It distanced me from the other kids. I suppose as a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual pain following my traumatic experiences, I started eating as a way to cope, which quickly expanded my waistline and brought on the teasing by my peers. Being a fat kid in pain doesn’t exactly make you an athlete, and so I found myself last-picked if I ever risked playing sports at recess.

Additionally, my pain was often misconstrued as laziness. Family members would criticize me for trying to get out of working outside when I was in pain. This stigma has contributed to my perfectionism and workaholism. It doesn’t help that in order to thrive (or even survive) in this world you can’t expect others to take care of you (not that I think they should, necessarily).

I still participated in after-school sports and such throughout my elementary and middle school years, although I wasn’t really good at any of them. Once I got to high school, I decided that I was going to play my favorite sport and I was going to be good at it.

Although it was absolutely terrifying, I started playing club, which then helped me make the high school team. On the junior varsity team I quickly became the best player, so I was invited to practice with the varsity team. Additionally, because I understood the sport very well, the head coach had me collect the statistics of each player. The seniors liked and accepted me, which was much-needed affirmation.

It wasn’t really a surprise, I suppose, that I made the varsity team in my second year of playing this sport. Unfortunately, team members who were once my friends started treating me as a competitor instead. As a side-bonus, I also started coming down with horrible pain during and after every practice and game, which affected not only my performance as an athlete but also as a student; my grades have never been worse than those years. The medication I was on helped me lose weight, but it didn’t help with the pain and it inhibited my ability to concentrate. My siblings didn't have a problem with reminding me that when they were in high school, our parent's didn't hire a tutor for them.

Eventually, my doctors told me I had to quit if I wanted to have relief from my pain (and graduate from high school, for that matter). It kind of tore me up inside, for I had finally found a sport that I was competent in and even my peers in my classes could recognize that. It had helped me feel that maybe I wasn’t so different after all. Maybe I could be accepted.

Then it was over.

I’d like to say that the pain stopped after I quit the team, but it only tapered a little. I had to avoid my coach for my entire senior year because he cussed me out and was very upset that I wasn’t going to play as a senior, which was also fun.

This was probably all for the best, because I then allowed music to become part of my life, and I excelled in that as well. Still, I miss the sense of masculinity of being a starter on a sports team and this sense of regret troubles my dreams.

On my mission, the pain drove me mad. Biking through a humid climate and being exposed to marijuana and tobacco fumes took their toll on my body. I rarely spoke to anyone about it because I was terrified that I would be sent home. I knew that if I was sent home I would be haunted for the rest of my life, so silence was my only option as the pain spread throughout my body.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve found some things that remotely help, but nothing particularly significant. For the past few years I’ve decided to give up any semblance of social life in order to survive academically.

The pain seems to be getting stronger as of late, and my grades are certainly reflecting that. Because it’s become so commonplace, I suppose, I didn’t realize that I had curled up into a ball and was crying into my hands at the school library until it was too late. I typically avoid studying in public places because I have to spend so much of my time in the fetal position.

Often I’ll be fighting a battle with a migraine and I’ll experience aphasia, which is always fun (it’s like I’m drunk and my words don’t come out). Another perk to having migraines are the auras; I’ll see stars and fuzzy outlines and black spots.

Living with chronic pain means that I turn people down more often than not when they invite me to things. Statistically speaking, they usually give up on me. If I’ve committed to go somewhere and get an attack, I usually clench my teeth and fight through the pain so my friendship isn’t called into question. I try to hide it because I know it makes people feel uncomfortable to know that I’m in agony in their presence.

Sometimes when I try to describe what same-sex attraction feels like, I find it helpful to compare it to my chronic CNS disease (and if you’re having a conniption because I’m drawing parallels between these two life experiences, I recommend you express your triggered emotions in a poem, or maybe just accept that I am not you).

One, these feelings never completely go away. Always in the back of my mind, like low throbbing pain, I’m struggling between pangs of guilt and shame and fear and lust and loneliness and insecurity.

Two, there is such a profound isolation associated with both of these experiences. No one can really understand what my pain is like, and the vast majority of those around me can’t wrap their heads around same-sex attraction. Most of those who can question my decision to remain celibate, so I don’t have much motivation to talk to anyone about my struggles.

Three, I have to deny myself many worldly and social pleasures to stay "healthy."

And four, these trials sometimes cloud my ability to believe that God loves me. Giving someone chronic pain, same-sex attraction, an ugly body, and the psychological crap that comes with these attributes makes a statistically dangerous suicide cocktail. I know that God loves me, and I rarely feel anger towards him, but I blame myself for my trials and it weighs me down with shame.

Frankly, it’s hard not to ponder suicide all the time simply for the physical pain itself. At least I know that same-sex attraction teaches me things every day. I guess there are still lessons that I need to learn in regards to my chronic illness.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis (as always) lays down some hard truths concerning our mortal experiences. Instead of paraphrasing, I've included his views on the purpose of pain in his own words:

As I've said before, nothing has brought me to my knees or to the temple more often than my same-sex attraction (I reckon my physical pain comes in second place). If my life were a cakewalk, I wouldn't have the testimony or waistline that I have today (get it? Cakewalks = fat! You know what a cakewalk is, right?) (...)

Ironically, it is more often our pain than our blessings that turns us to God. Everyone can relate to the common denominator of pain. Pain is universal. Pain is a requirement of mortality. Pain is what we signed up for when we chose the Plan of Salvation, believe it or not.

Everyone you meet is struggling with burdens that you’ll probably never know about. Whether that be a chronic illness, loss of a loved one, same-sex attraction, or whatever the case may be, there is a serious battle behind every smile and tear. 

It's easy to be embarrassed about our weaknesses, be they physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or grammatical (if you use the wrong "your" I WILL cut you). While it's crucial that we don't rely on solely one friend to function as our psychologist (this will poison friendships like Brussels sprouts poisoned that one lady on "Freaky Eaters") (don't even get me started, that's a WHOLE 'nother blog post), it's also important that we open up and allow others to help us bear our burdens. That's another part of the bargain of mortality. 

You may not be able to share your struggles with everyone (nor should you, in my opinion), but you need to open up to those you trust, be they friends, family, or priesthood leaders. Hiding struggles like same-sex attraction can burn you out, and the Lord has put people in your life to lift you up.

If you could read someone else's life story (as perfectly transcribed by angels), it would be difficult not to love them. God allows pain to come to your life through your sins and puts pain in your life when you're keeping the commandments (so you might as well party, right?) (scratch that). In both circumstances, He's trying to tell you something. 

I hope that my soul isn't too rebellious to listen. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sometime We'll Understand

This past week the college a Capella group that I am a member of has started learning a new song for which I am the lead singer.  I was absolutely thrilled because it happens to be one of my favorite songs and as I am a baritone I usually don't get such big solos.  Our rendition is slightly based off of the t.v. show "Glee"s cover of the song, so we were encouraged to watch clips of it on YouTube.

As I was going through clips of the show, I observed how two young men's blossoming romance developed.  It was not depicted as a promiscuous encounter or a daring experiment.  Their interactions and dialogue seemed so real.

I wept.

Seeing such relationships really tears my heart apart.  Those who are familiar with same-sex attraction know that it can be a cold path of pain, loneliness, and desperation. Members of the Church who experience these attractions feel these emotions, particularly because of the position in which they are placed.

On one hand, they have a real, ingrained, uncontrollable draw to members of their own sex.  They do not choose these impulses; honestly, who would?!  (Perhaps there are some in the world that are so sex-driven that they will experiment with homosexual behavior and frolic in their immoral zealotry.  However, I seriously doubt that many people would want to be so deviant from thousands of years of sexual tradition and expectations. There is possibly no group on earth that has been stigmatized and persecuted for historically as consistently and internationally as those who experience same-sex attraction.)

With this reality in mind, consider the sociocultural perspective on homosexuality in modern times (in America and Western Europe, anyway).  There has never been a time when such attractions were so widely accepted and even encouraged.  Opportunities to act on these feelings without fear of societal rejection and persecution abound.  It would be very easy for me to find a boyfriend/husband, and I couldn't be denied employment or housing because of our relationship.  Those who do express hatred and disgust or even simple disapproval towards homosexuals are labeled as Hitleresque theocrats and judgmental perpetrators of hate crimes.

On the other hand, these members of the Church have real testimonies of the truthfulness and divinity of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  In my case, there is no doubt in my mind that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true organization established and administered by the only begotten Son of God.  I know that the Book of Mormon is true.  The Spirit has crystallized the clarity of this realization.  I know the Gospel establishes the only way that we can be happy throughout eternity and that marriage is ordained of God when it is conducted between a man and a woman.

Members of the Church with these attractions seem to be humanized paradoxes.  The struggle of reconciling their faith with their feelings can occupy their minds every single day.  There are times (such as the night I viewed this clip) that my whole body screams for companionship (and usually not in a sexual way - I'm referring to an intimacy deeper than gratification).  I pray and beg God to help me understand why He could cause such real longings to be so infused with my being that lead me in the complete opposite direction of the path which the Plan of Salvation directs.

At the time, I tried to hide my tears from my roommates (none of whom know about my attractions).  I yearned for an escape from this dichotomy.  It was then that the voice of a friend entered my mind, a friend who earlier that week had advised me to listen to Rob Gardner's Lamb of God.  Skeptically, I exited YouTube and pulled up the suggested album.

These are the words which God allowed me to hear at this trying time:

Not now, but in coming years,
It may not be when we demand
We'll read the meaning of our tears,
And there, sometime, we'll understand

Why what we long for most of all

Eludes our open pleading hand
Why ever silence meets our call,
Somewhere, sometime, we'll understand

So trust in God through all thy days

Fear not, for He doth hold thy hand;
Though dark thy way, still sing and praise,
Sometime, sometime we'll understand.

Sometime, we'll fall on bended knee

And feel there, graven on His hand
Sometime with tear less eyes we'll see
What here, we could not understand

So trust in God through all the days;

Fear not, for He doth hold thy hand;
Though dark thy way, still sing and praise,
Sometime, sometime we'll understand

(Rob Gardner. "Sometime We'll Understand." Lamb of God)

There are so many words in this song which pertained exactly to the soul-rending emotions and desires which I was experiencing.  You may notice that I reference music often throughout this blog.  I believe that God uses music to speak to us; there are messages that can only be conveyed through this medium.  The Spirit flourishes in the ambiance of such lyrics and tonalities.

I heartily suggest that you look into Rob Gardner's music.  His works touch my soul more deeply than those of most other composers.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Blessing of Mistakes

For devotional on Valentine's Day we were given the following talk.  It really resonated with me as regret and past mistakes have caused me more pain then basically anything else. However, because of my mistakes, I've become closer to the Savior. These mistakes have led me to the temple and allow me to have empathy for others. I hope that we can recognize that we weren't sent to the earth to be flawless. We are here to give our agency a boot-camp workout.

On Failing and Finishing
by Cassy Budd

Play Through Your Mistakes

When you allow yourself to be paralyzed by your mistakes, you diminish your ability to be useful in God’s kingdom. Making mistakes is simply part of the human condition and can be one of your most productive learning tools. Yes, you need to recognize your mistakes. But more than that, you need to find a way to effectively play through them.

Show Up and Try

[Learning to ski] gave me a deep appreciation for the value of the “try.” Simply showing up and starting where you are is all that can be asked of you. Regardless of your level of experience, your failures, or your perception of your own potential, wherever you are in life, you just need to show up and try. Try to listen to the patient instruction of the Savior, try to imitate His movements, try to ignore the negative self-talk when your movements do not measure up, and try to focus on the joy in the learning instead of the defeat in the failure. And amidst your “try,” recognize that others around you are in the middle of their own “try.” Celebrate their progress, even when they seem to be farther along than you, and give them a pass when they fall short.
In my own classroom I have seen through experience that failure is one of the best ways to generate lasting intellectual learning. Let me share something from the authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning:
Unsuccessful attempts to solve a problem encourage deep processing of the answer when it is later supplied, creating fertile ground for its encoding, in a way that simply reading [or being given] the answer cannot. [Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 88]
I look forward to these unsuccessful moments with my students, though I know they are in pain. It is very satisfying as a teacher to witness the transition from failed attempt to recognition and understanding.
Failure is useful in physical development as well. Strategically working a muscle to failure—the point at which you can no longer lift or push or pull whatever you are lifting or pushing or pulling—and then allowing proper time for the muscle fibers to repair is one of the most effective ways to build strength. This process of failing and repairing eventually results in stronger, more efficient muscles.
To improve my overall health and fitness, I recently started working with a trainer. My trainer, Josh, is big on this idea of failure. He chooses movements and weights that will get me to the failing point just at the end of a set, and somehow he knows when to step in to help me finish. It used to irritate me to have him grinning and laughing while helping me through the last few failed reps, but I realize now that he saw progress where I saw failure. He looks forward to those moments, like I do with my students, because he gets to be a real participant in my growth.
If failure is important to our intellectual and physical improvement, perhaps it is important in our quest for perfection as well. Could it be that our moments of extremity are necessary for our spiritual progress and that our Savior knows that only then we are ready to learn? Regrettably, accepting help when we need it most can be difficult.

Accept Help

We are all that needy...We all, at one time or other, will be in a situation in which our strength or knowledge or skill or perhaps even our desire is not enough. These are the times when your Savior pulls you up out of the darkness—if you will let go and take His hand. These are the times when His voice guides you to safety—if you will listen carefully. And it is for these times that He descended below all things—to become your stepping-stone.
I love these words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
When [the Savior] says . . . , “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way. [“Broken Things to Mend,” Ensign, May 2006; emphasis in original]
Living perfectly is not the plan. Repentance is the plan. Jesus Christ is the plan. I think we erroneously equate perfection with living a perfect life, with never failing or falling short, but Jesus Christ is the only one who ever did or ever will do that. Perfection for us, then, must be about something else.
John S. Robertson explained in a BYU devotional that our understanding of the word perfect has changed over the last 400 years: whereas we use perfect to mean “flawless” today, its Latinate root meant something closer to “finished.” Furthermore, the Hebrew word that was translated as “perfect” in the Bible might have been more accurately translated as “complete” (see “A Complete Look at Perfect,” BYU devotional address, 13 July 1999). Perfection, for us, is not about being flawless; it is about being finished.
Artists who practice the Japanese art form kintsugi repair broken pottery by filling the cracks with a lacquer made from gold, silver, or platinum, restoring the damaged piece to something beautiful and whole. Kintsugi teaches that scars are not something to hide; rather, they are to be celebrated for the unique beauty they exhibit. The scars themselves are considered precious and therefore are mended with precious metals to honor their value. The finished piece is even more beautiful than the unbroken original.

Similarly, we honor the scars of our Savior, for He has graven us on the palms of His hands (see Isaiah 49:16). He is not ashamed of His scars. On the contrary, He has given us this invitation:
Arise and come forth . . . that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am . . . the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. [3 Nephi 11:14]
When we turn our broken pieces over to the Savior, our gaps are filled with Him—with His perfection—and we are made complete; we are finished by the Great Creator through the restorative power of “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). We come to know the Savior not just by recognizing and reverencing His scars but by recognizing and reverencing our own. We are bound to the Savior through our mutual scars, “and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5; see also verse 4).
School of Accountancy, delivered this devotional address on February 14, 2017.
© Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

North Star Conference

Hey Peeps,

This is a last-minute reminder to consider coming to North Star's annual conference. It's an amazingly spiritual and grounding experience that I recommend to everyone!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

To LDS Ward Leaders: How to Minister to your LGBT members

I am often asked by church leaders "How can we help you?" or "How can we better serve our LGBT members?" I typically explain that there isn't a simple answer to address the needs of each individual who falls into this category, but that love, empathy, and meekness is required. I acknowledge that I can't speak for all of my brothers and sisters, but I do know that the Spirit is capable of directing leaders when they set aside their preconceptions and related solutions (my first bishop suggested that I start taking testosterone supplements to cure my attractions *hahaha* Don't do that).

 I found this post on facebook and thought it might be of help:

"Three years ago, as a new YSA Bishop, I sat down with a member of our ward from the LGBT community.  I had no training on what I should or shouldn’t say to this good man who bravely walked into my office ... the first time meeting with a bishop in years.  This wonderful man was in a same-sex relationship, bravely putting a drug addiction behind him, and trying to find emotional stability. While I felt the support of Heavenly Father as I met with him, I also knew I lacked the tools and expertise to effectively minister to him.  

Since that meeting, I’ve gone on a “deep dive” to learn all I can to effectively minister to the LGBT community.  That “deep dive” included reading and meeting with people (both in and outside of the church) who have LGBT expertise and spending a lot of time listening to and understanding members of the LGBT community.  Many of the stories from my LGBT friends were deeply troubling as well-meaning leaders without any LGBT training added to their burdens and pains.

While I’m still learning ... don’t have all the answers and will continue to make mistakes ... I wanted to share with others what I’ve learned in hopes it may be helpful to Stake/Ward leaders and also parents or to anyone who wants to do a better job of ministering to their LGBT brothers and sisters. These are my thoughts only ... I do not speak for the Mormon Church.

1.  Affirm vs Agenda:  The word “affirm” is a word I’ve heard for a lifetime ... but it is only in the past year has this word has taken on an expanded meaning.  In the case of the LGBT community, affirm means I don’t have a specific agenda, path, or outcome for those who I meet with ... but rather I recognize there are different roads for different people and I need to support (affirm) the direction each person takes in their life.  So I first spend a lot of time listening and understanding ... then I try to get a feeling of where they want to go ... what their hopes are ... where their dreams are ... what they feel is their path.  Some are at a fork in the road and need a trusted leader to help them see down each path to help them make a more informed decision and maybe a priesthood blessing to hear from Heavenly Father (more below on Priesthood Blessings).  Some are past the fork in the road and have committed to a path.  For the LGBT community, one path can be to stay a member of the church and live its teaching ... another path (maybe temporary or permanent) can be a path not consistent with church teachings.  While serving as a bishop (I’m now released), I would always teach the doctrines of the church and invite everyone to follow those teachings.  However, at times I would meet with someone committed to a path not consistent with church teachings.  At first my natural tendency was to correct them, preach to them, give them a conference talk, and remind them of the consequences of their decision ... I gently did some of this.  However, I often felt Heavenly Father asking me to “walk with” these good LGBT brothers and sisters. They usually knew all the “preaching” things I could say.  What they needed was a trusted adult in their lives and my role was to love, support and sustain them.  As some chose a path not consistent with the church, we both knew they could no longer attend the temple or fully participate in the church ... but I could still “walk with them” ... unconditionally love and “minister” to them ... my role in their life didn’t change if they went down a road not consistent with church teachings ... I meet with them just as frequently as any of my ward members.  My time and love for each ward member was not tied into any specific outcome ... and I learned not to measure my “success” by a specific outcome or measurable goal.  I also learned it is OK as a leader to say “I don’t know” when asked questions from my LGBT members as I met with them.  For example, I think few Bishops would know the right things to say meeting with a transgender member for the first time ... I Googled the term (and cisgender)  ... most enjoy hearing “I don’t know, but I will walk with you and we will figure this out together”.  Priesthood leaders/parents are not supposed to have all the answers right now to be effective. 

I’ve had many conversations with parents of gay children.  In these private tender moments, some of these good parents told me they eventually came to the conclusion that their hope for their child is a committed same-sex relationship.  At first this surprised me ... almost wanting to remind them what the church taught ... but then I listened as these good parents put on their “what is best for my child emotionally” glasses as they strongly believe (and I affirm) that their child is going to have better emotional health and happier lives in a committed long-term same sex relationship to a person who shares similar standards and values ... often they hope their child will find someone with similar background in the Mormon church.  They understand the difference between a committed same sex relationship versus having multiple partners and the sexual and emotional abuse that can occur with that unsafe lifestyle.  They want their sons and daughters to be emotionally safe and stable.  Now saying this, I’m not advocating this path ... and I realize there are many in the LGBT community working hard to stay aligned with church teachings which I support ... but simply state that everyone’s path is unique.  There is something about the heart of a parent and their ability to know what is best for their child that I value, respect and honor.  I believe they can do this and be fully square with Heavenly Father and the church.  One of my favorite examples of this is Sara and Bryce Cook ... active LDS parents of two wonderful gay sons.  They outline wonderful principals of effective parenting as they’ve had to wrestle deeply with these issues.  Please read their story here

So like the Cooks and many others, I “affirm” the individual choices made by those in the LGBT community ... I will walk with you ... without agenda ... and support you on your individual journey ... I hope I’m humble enough to realize I don’t have revelation for anyone’s path except my own.  And I will leave final judgement to a Heavenly Father and His Son and their perfect understanding.  

2.  Tendency to Fix:  I think most leaders in general and maybe men in particular want to fix things. Sometimes my wonderful wife wants to me fix something ... but sometimes she just wants me to listen to her ... there is nothing to solve or fix.  After 25+ years of marriage, I’m still working on this one.  I think we Bishop’s see ourselves as problem solvers ... we want to “fix” the person we are meeting with.  True, this is a part of being a Bishop ... helping someone repent, heal from a difficult situations, improve their testimony, access the atonement of Jesus Christ, and/or prepare for a mission/temple marriage ... but sometimes I worry we let our “fix it mentality” keep us from effectively ministering.   Bishop’s may be under pressure to “fix” a situation as they may be close friends with the parents of a child they are working with and feel the pressure to “deliver” the desired outcome ... or may feel an obligation to the church who has trusted them with this sacred calling to deliver desired results.  This is not a LGBT example, but I remember meeting a couple of incredible young men in my YSA Ward who felt their path was not a mission.  They were kind of “beat up” from meeting with their prior church leaders ... they felt the conversations were pretty one-sided about the “priesthood duty” of serving a mission ... without much chance to open up and share how they felt ... causing them to feel increasingly marginalized in the church in spite of rock solid testimonies.  I did a lot of listening in these situations ... felt deeply spiritual and committed men ... and supported their decision not to serve a mission as they didn’t feel a desire to serve ... D&C 4:3 does say “if you have a desires to serve God ye are called to the work."  I trust that they have a strong enough relationship with Heavenly Father to know their path.  In one situation, it became dramatically clear why a young man felt prompted to not serve ... he was clearly acting on impressions from Heavenly Father that were unique to his situation.  I solute these good men for being true to themselves and trusting in personal revelation.  I pray they can survive the sometimes brutal culture for great men who do not serve missions.

3.  First “Coming Out” conversation:  The more time I’ve spent with my LGBT friends, the more I realize that first “coming out” conversation may be one of the hardest things anyone does in mortality.  Seriously.  Many have thought about having this conversation for years ... even decades ... but are so fearful of rejection and/or bringing pain into the lives of those they love.   I’ve never had the honor of someone “coming out” to me as the first person they have told.  I would now consider that an honor ... because it would reflect someone’s deep trust in me.   I think Bishops need to train themselves for these conversations ... prepared in advance to be ready to listen, love, validate, and give hope ... while maintaining eye contact and not showing disappointment (because they shouldn’t be disappointed!).  I think anyone that confides sometime to the Bishop is a hero and needs to be told this.  I tell people my respect and admiration for them only increases as they share deeply personal stuff.  I think a lot of listening by asking open ended questions without judgement can be helpful (“let me know more about how long you have felt this way,” “what caused you to finally want to talk about it”, “how I can help you”, “what impressions do you get from Heavenly Father”).  I think other questions/statements can be hurtful and are just plain wrong (“why did you choose this,” “how are you going to fix this,” “this isn’t consistent with the proclamation on the family,” “what did you do to cause this,” or anything that makes them feel broken).  This first conversation should not turn into a repentance interview ...asking about porn, masturbation (which the church once incorrectly taught causes homosexuality ... masturbation does not cause or change sexual orientation...), sexual relationships, etc ... because it reinforces the completely incorrect idea that there is a connection between sin and being a member of the LGBT community.  That is not true!  This first conversation is probably not the time to remind them the church’s stance against gay sex or gay marriage ... I bet they are keenly aware of that message.  I hope well over 50% of this first conversation is listening (most of my interviews were mostly listening).  I also believe there should be no pressure for anyone to “come out."  There is safety in the closet ... everyone needs to figure out for themselves the time to “come out."  Further, “coming out” needs to be viewed as a healthy step as (ideally) unconditional support and love can fully take effect once known ... having other trusted people “walking with you.” Once out to a church leader, someone may feel a desire to come out to the entire congregation (I never encourage or discourage this ... totally up to the individual).  I ask myself why they want to do this?  I’ve felt strongly the answer is they need the emotional support of having people “walk with them” on this difficult road ... it is not out of rebellion, wanting to challenge church doctrine, or to find a partner ... but rather they recognize they need to be authentic and have people accept them for who they are and the accompanying (and much needed) emotional healing/stability.  Some want to come out in testimony meeting, in the Relief Society and/or Elder Quorum meetings ... maybe others in social media ... I leave it up to them to make this decision and let them know they have my support ... but also point out there will be some pain as some will pull back from them.

4.  Ward/Stake LGBT culture:  I think Stake and Ward leaders need to create a culture of LGBT safely for those who have not “come out."  Go on the assumption that there are some desperately looking for the courage to talk to someone about their sexual identity as the emotional trauma of being on this road alone is unsustainable ... with the possibility that some are considering suicide. Best estimates are that 2-7% of each ward are members of the LGBT community (that is about 1 in 20) ... with most becoming aware of their orientation during early adolescence.  While I never did this, I think YSA Bishops should talk to the Elders and Sisters in their group meetings and tell them how he’d handle their “coming out” conversation and Home Ward Bishops to do this separately in Y/W and Y/M meetings and also talk some of the factors to consider in deciding the right time to “come out” ... including giving permission to not “come out” at this time (and feel no guilt or shame for this).  I think this “opens the door” for these much needed individual conversations.  I don’t think this first “coming out” conversation needs to be to a Bishop ... it could be to one or both parents ... a therapist ... but creating a supportive ward culture increases the likelihood a ward member will come out to a trusted adult.   

Further, our entire culture (religious institutions, families, society) needs to be loving, nurturing, and accepting the LGBT community ... which can be done without changing doctrine ... so our sons and daughters will feel safe coming out and not worried that being gay/transgender will shame or embarrass their family.  They need to be able to turn to the most important and trusted people in their lives in their moment of greatest need.  I’ve been told by my LDS LGBT experts this is the best booklet to help families with LGBT children (  I’ve read it and I encourage all parents and religious leaders to read it.  I’ve also been told that some will not read/consider it because there isn’t a church logo on it ... but those C.S. Lewis books don’t have church logo either 😊.

5.  Not broken:  Members of the LGBT community need to feel that they are not broken ... they do not need to be fixed ... they are members of the LGBT community because of a divine plan from Heavenly parents.  Yes, it can be a brutally difficult road to walk ... but I no longer like to use the term “struggling” or “struggling with same sex attraction."  Most just want to be called gay (when my generation hears “gay” it usually means in a same-sex relationship ... but now it means orientation ... so yes we have temple worthy gay men and women in our church).  We need to honor, cherish and sustain members of the LGBT community.  Our LGBT friends do not exist as appendages to their straight friends ... in some junior or supporting role ... but as equals ... wonderful, whole, and complete ... that somehow in a divine plan that includes pre-earth, earth life, and the next life ... their divine nature as a member of the LGBT community should be honored as equal children of Heavenly Parents ... in our limited vision we are only seeing the middle act of a three act play ... that once we see the whole plan we will better understand the divine mission of our LGBT brothers and sisters. We should not broadly teach that the resurrection will “fix” our LGBT brothers and sisters in the next life to be straight.  While individual LGBT members may have hope in this concept, I know of no scripture that supports this and it makes our LGBT brothers and sisters feel broken.  I love meeting members of the LGBT community who, with tears in their eyes, are glad they are who they are ... yes the road is brutally difficult at times ... but the lessons they are learning and their unique ability to love, accept and serve others is worth it.  That if God gave them a button to push to change them into straight people they would not push it.  Wow.  That is sure a good spot to be in emotionally. Unfortunately, because of our society many of my LGBT friends do not feel this way.  I pray our culture will improve and more members of the LGBT community will fell at peace with their sexual identity ... that is one of my goals as a LGBT ally.   

6.  Church Needs LGBT Community:  While participating on a panel for the student group comprised of BYU students called Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA), I made the statement “The Mormon Church needs the LGBT community to become a better Church."   I think it was the first time I’ve made that statement ... but it is a statement I highly support and stand by.  Christ’s mission was really about ministering to everyone ... especially those rejected by those in power like the leapers, poor, physically/emotionally broken ... those that the people in power thought Christ shouldn’t be ministering to.  I believe the LGBT community brings a unique perspective on how to effectively minister ... they are some of the most loving, accepting and Christlike people I know ... with unique ability to identify, reach out, and walk with the one.  I believe they can help us as a church (they certainly have helped me) to minister in a way more consistent with Christ’s own ministry.  So yes, the church need the LGBT community to more effectively implement the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

7.  Kinsey Scale:  I encourage leaders to become familiar with this scale with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual.  (  For some this can be a helpful tool to understand their sexual orientation (but is just a tool ... each person has the ‘final say” on their path ... a priesthood leader shouldn’t prescribe a specific path based on this scale).  For example, I’ve met with many that are a 6 ... and believe I’d be making a big mistake as a priesthood leader suggesting any kind heterosexual relationship ... or long discarded practices of conversion/reparative therapy to change sexual orientation.  I’ve heard some disturbing stories of leaders suggesting “messing up” in a heterosexual relationship to “get fixed."  In the end, I believe it is up to the individual to decide the best road for them working closely with Heavenly Father ... sometimes they will know that road and spend the rest of their life on that road ... sometimes they will be on one road and learn that is not the right road for them and will find a different road.  I believe Heavenly Father will guide each of us to find “our road”.   

8.  Priesthood Blessings:  In my assignment, I end each interview with “would you like a priesthood blessing or are you OK”?  About 40% asked for a blessing ... I probably gave 1,500+ blessings over the past three years.  I firmly testify to the truthfulness of priesthood blessings ... yes I’d fall on a sword in my testimony of this.  Heavenly Father said things through me to their sons and daughters that I could never have said on my own.   Some of my most sacred and spiritual experiences are these priesthood blessings.  As mentioned above, in my interviews I rarely recommended a course of action ... my purpose was to lay our principals, show options, refer to scriptures or scripture stories, and help one see down the path they were considering ... in short a better framework for making a decision.   However, in a priesthood blessing I am speaking for Heavenly Father ... with that comes a sacred responsibility to not use this trusted position to reflect my will or a my personally preferred outcome.  Sometimes in these blessings, I gave very specific guidance from Heavenly Father ... the exact decision to make or path to follow. However, sometimes the blessing from Heavenly Father is to validate a decision someone is making (or made) that was not consistent with my initial feelings.  I was recently told of an experience of a young man whose Bishop felt he was not ready for his endowment recommend (hadn’t done the assigned homework), but then, to be sure, gave him a blessing and wept as it became clear Heavenly Father wanted him to have his recommend and be endowed.  Lots of good principals in that story.  As I give blessings to those in the LGBT community, I universally feel Heavenly Father’s love for them ... yes I feel that love equally for those aligned and not aligned with church teachings.  I feel as part of His wonderful and perfect plan they are meant to be members of the LGBT community.  I hope everyone priesthood leader gets the chance to give multiple blessings to those in the LGBT community ... it has been transforming for me.   

However, as I’ve met with many in the LGBT community they have shared with me painful priesthood blessings that they have received.  Brutal stories of commanding the evil “gay” spirit to be cast out,  promises to read, pray and be “fixed," linking sin to LGBT orientation, etc.  I consider this to be a form of spiritual abuse.  I share these not to criticize well-meaning leaders ... but to help all leaders be more effective ministers in their sacred callings.

9.  “But Are They Acting On It.”  I’m concerned that our society, when discussing a LGBT person, inappropriately asks/thinks “but is he/she acting on it.”  It seems this way of “seeing” happens much more quickly in the LGBT community than in the straight community.  For example, when we sit in church and hear a talk from a single straight 23-year-old person do we wonder if he/she is acting on their heterosexual orientation?  Probably not.  Would we extend the same courtesy to a 23-year-old LGBT person giving a talk?  I hope so.  I think we need to deprogram ourselves from “seeing” LGBT people this way.  Instead let’s see them (and everyone) for their Christlike attributes.   

10. “Hope”:  I think the best thing a priesthood leader/parent can do is to bring hope into the life of a LGBT person.  Hope is about my favorite word.  It is the idea that better days are ahead ... hang in there ... take a day at a time ... it may be brutally difficult right now ... but there are better days ahead.  Hope comes from Heavenly Parents that love their LGBT children ... their identity is part of a unique and important plan.  Hope comes from people who will “walk with them” ... unconditionally loving and supporting them.  Hope comes from better seeing one’s ability to bless and help the lives of others.  Hope comes from seeing the Mormon Church’s relationship with its LGBT members as a book with more “chapters” to be written.

I hope this is helpful to some.  I love, sustain and support my wonderful church leaders and my LGBT brothers and sisters.  They are some of the best men and women I know and I’m grateful for the things they are teaching me to be a better following of Christ."