Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Even When He is Silent

"I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. 
I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. 
I believe in God even when He is silent."

Carved into the wall of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, these words were discovered in the hiding place of a number of Jews during the Holocaust. It's essentially impossible to imagine a bleaker circumstance than being a Jew in Nazi territory.




I was first introduced to this poem through a song we were going to perform as a choir before the Corona virus shut our society down, isolating us all from loved ones and shutting us inside in a life-or-death situation.




As were millions of other members of the Church, I looked forward to the upcoming conference which was promised to "be different from any previous conference." I didn't have specific expectations, but I anticipated a grand performance of music and invigorating talks. 

When it became apparent that conference would be different in that it would be strictly online, I wondered if that was what the Prophet had in mind, or if the grand plans he had for conference would be pushed back to October. I flirted, wistfully, with the thought that, since it would be broadcasted, President Nelson would whip out the sword of Laban or other artifact. I wondered if his advice to take our vitamins was foreshadowing 😂


Above all else, and as I do before every conference, I hoped and pleaded that the Lord would reveal through His servants specific guidance and understanding for those who experience same-sex attraction. Have we not waited long enough in darkness? Why, when the world is a runaway train headed in the opposite direction of morality, when homosexual relationships are not only tolerated but celebrated, when mental health and suicidal take their heavy tolls, do we still not have answers?


I unfortunately had to work conference weekend (I work in a residential mental health facility), so I missed a few sessions, but had this dilemma been addressed, I would have instantly heard about it. I was admittedly disappointed yet unsurprised. What precedent did I have to believe that this would all be instantly explained in a single conference? 


I also admit that I felt a bit slighted in that there was a ton of hype for this conference, yet it seemed more or less ordinary. As I always do, I was filled with the Spirit, who testified that what I was hearing was true, that the Lord lives, and that this is His kingdom upon the earth. I absolutely loved the new logo of the Church, a change I was hoping would happen for some time now as the angel Moroni simply doesn't express what our faith truly is about. I enjoyed the new proclamation. Perhaps I am growing accustomed to changes like that. President Nelson has certainly taken us on quite the ride as far as that goes!


One of my few brag-worthy talents is that I make friends with the best people, often finding hidden gems that most overlook. In expressing myself to some of such friends, one mentioned that a mutual acquaintance had vented on social media about how frustrating it was that, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, the Prophet and apostles would focus so much on the Restoration of the Gospel rather than speak to the fears of viewers concerning the deadly virus which has brought the world to its knees (hopefully y'all are praying while you're down there).


Contrastingly, my friend expressed his belief that our leaders were deliberately telling us what we needed, not necessarily what we were expecting. What good would it truly have done for us if the focal point of the conference was the plague? Would that bring us hope?


The answer is in the Restoration.


My favorite talk was Elder Holland's, and my friend's comment helped me realize why.


The Restoration revealed to mankind the true nature of God, our Father. Not a stoic being who would predestine few of His children to salvation and cast the rest into the fires of Hell. The Book of Mormon explains that the Savior's every action would be “for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world” and every inhabitant therein. Holland points out that the Restoration fulfilled thousands of years of prophesy, bringing a tidal wave of spiritual truth to the vacuum left by the Great Apostasy.


He continues: "Because the Restoration reaffirmed the foundational truth that God does work in this world, we can hope, we should hope, even when facing the most insurmountable odds. That is what the scripture meant when Abraham was able to hope against hope—that is, he was able to believe in spite of every reason not to believe—that he and Sarah could conceive a child when that seemed utterly impossible. So, I ask, 'If so many of our 1820 hopes could begin to be fulfilled with a flash of divine light to a mere boy kneeling in a patch of trees in upstate New York, why should we not hope that righteous desires and Christlike yearnings can still be marvelously, miraculously answered by the God of all hope?' We all need to believe that what we desire in righteousness can someday, someway, somehow yet be ours."





To find hope for the future, we need but look back to see that the Lord fulfills His promises to those who keep His commandments.


As I remember, there have been countless times in my life when I've felt hopeless.


I remember weeping in my room as a child, trapped in sexual abuse that I was too ashamed to tell my parents about and "knowing" I was destined to burn in Hell for the sins I felt I had committed. I wish that I could hug that boy and tell him that there was so much to look forward to, that healing would come, that the flashbacks would cease and that I would be able to forgive my abuser and break free of the chains placed on my spirit.


I remember preparing to kill myself as a teenager, seeing no hope for relief from my chronic illness, from bullying, and from attractions to a lifestyle contrary to the Plan of Salvation. Again, I wish I could hold him, promising that such trials would foster the resilience and empathy I would need to be an effective missionary, that I would create a powerful network of authentic friends who would support me in my pursuit of Christ.


I continue to beg the Lord for guidance, navigating adulthood without a feasible prospect of marriage while trying to hold onto hope that the Lord is mindful of me and has a place for me in His marvelous plan. In a few years, what will I wish I could tell my present self?


While each of us has questions, looking through a glass darkly, we must hold on to the hope that Christ offers us. As my ancestor William Bradford prayed during a perilous storm at sea, "Yet Lord, Thou canst save."


Our world has been plunged deeper into darkness by Covid 19, which has robbed us of jobs, health, and life. It need not rob us of hope, for "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." (Romans 8:35, 37).


So while the Lord continues to be silent despite our prayers for light and understanding to come to us regarding same-sex attraction and other complexities such as the foreboding consequences of the pandemic, the Restoration solidifies the hope that God loves us, that the sun will rise again, and that He will not withhold the answers from us forever.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Learn to Swim

So much hope was awakened within me when the Church published their first website addressing same-sex attraction (Mormonsandgays.org), and I was elated a few years ago when the website was revamped and filled with inspiring stories from so many of my friends (rebranded Mormonandgay.org). I felt a strong sense of comradery and connection knowing that I had so many people by my side coming out of the darkness and being accepted by members of our Church. Things were changing for the better.

Fast forward three years. Three people on the website are no longer keeping the covenants they defended in the past. As you can imagine, this hits me a little harder than the average member of the Church (at least, I assume). People have been reaching out to me because their hopes have been dimmed by the choices of these formerly featured individuals on the Church's website. They ask me "Can I really make it?" or "Is my marriage going to hold out till the end?"

Many people wonder how I've been able to stay grounded.

My mother is not a forceful woman. Honestly, some might call her a pushover because she's kind to a fault. She is incredibly humble and thoughtful. She did, however, not give her kids agency to choose between being on the swim team or not. It was utterly non-negotiable.

I remember begging her to let me have a regular summer without having to get up before dawn to go to the pool and swim my guts out. She was always sweet about it, but she never let me skip out on practice. She came from a family of swimmers, having a brother who was a Navy Seal and another who was an Olympic diver (she herself was training for the Olympics before she developed a deadly disease which ended these dreams. She has since recovered). Perhaps you might think that she was being controlling and/or living vicariously by requiring her seven children to become athletes, but you'd be wrong.


(The pool in which I learned to swim)

My mother had watched a girl suffocate to death when she was very young. With that trauma haunting her, she made sure that her children would have the best chance of surviving various scenarios involving water by insisting that we not only would take swimming lessons, but that we would be able to swim for miles with confidence rather than succumb to exhaustion and drown. We were also trained in life guarding, so in addition to learning to swim with various body parts inhibited (to simulate injury), we developed the skills necessary to rescue helpless others from deep water. 

I remember crying so much throughout this training. Not only did it always leave me breathless, but I was consistently the slowest on the team. I remember disqualifying our team during a freestyle meet because I messed up my flip-turn. I felt absolutely useless and ashamed of my constant failure. 

Then one school year, our general P.E. class went to the pool to work out. I was uncomfortable as ever as I took the shirt off of my pasty, blubbery body and walked to the edge of the pool. I mentally prepared myself to be put to shame by my athletic peers. I was in the front of the line in my lane, so I got in the water and launched myself toward the other end when I heard the whistle blow. 

I didn't take a single breath as I swam across the length of the pool, feeling like everyone's eyes would scrutinize my performance as the slowest guy in the class. When I touched the wall, I jumped off the bottom of the pool onto the deck. As I did so, I heard my coach whisper, "Foster?"

I turned around to see that not a single one of my peers had even swam halfway across the pool. Many of the guys that were so much better at me on the court or in the field were floundering with their heads above water, struggling to do more than doggy-paddle. My coach was as surprised as I was that I was able to perform so well.

My mother's consistent boundary-keeping held me to a standard that ensured that I was able to take care of myself and excel in what could be a very stressful situation. Many of my peers lacked the preparation to make it across the pool, and who knows if they would have been able to survive falling into a deeper body of water.

You could make a comparison to spirituality when swimming in figuratively stormy waters. Elder Ballard taught us that it's way easier to get people into a rescue boat when you're in the boat itself rather than in the choppy water. How can we expect to help others when we aren't doing the work necessary to maintain our testimonies? We may not realize how weak we are (or how strong) until the storm hits.



These thoughts were going in my mind when I attended Russell M. Nelson's BYU Devotional this month (I was literally writing this post right before I heard him speak).

First of all, does God choose the cutest men to be prophets or what?! I absolutely love President Nelson. I truly believe he is God's mouthpiece here on the earth.



If you haven't heard his talk, you need to. He finally addressed the reversal of the "November Policy" that stirred up so many difficult feelings for so many people. What a relief that was to me! As he did so, he taught about how we must identify ourselves as children of God first and foremost. He also reminded us that truth is truth, no matter how inconvenient, painful, or confusing. The prophet then discussed that as God loves us with a perfect love, the things He allows us to go through must be for our best, even if we don't see the eternal benefits with our mortal eyes. The fourth truth he listed was that God works through prophets and apostles who must obey Him despite what the world says. He explained that they used what flexibility they had to try and make things as painless as they could for everyone involved by letting local bishops make decisions on baby blessings and later baptisms.

The final truth of his BYU devotional was that we can discern between truth and what is not by learning to listen to the whisperings of the Spirit. If I didn't have this personal confirmation that God truly lives and that this Church embodies the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I would have left long ago. My heart longs for the connection that married people enjoy, and my future often seems so dark. But the Spirit so often speaks to my soul and my heart knows that I can trust the Savior and His servants here in this fallen world.

So when people who once carried the same burden I once did decide to drop it and leave the strait and narrow path, I console the ache their absence leaves by reminding myself of the innumerable witnesses I have received from the Spirit, the security of knowing that our Heavenly Father continues to teach us through His earthly mouthpiece, and that as the world gets worse, the Lord will make His saints greater. I firmly believe that there are glories in the years ahead that we cannot imagine.

With yesterday's announcement concerning an update in baptismal witness policy, I'm even more excited for conference this weekend! Make sure that you take the time to watch or listen to it and build up your spiritual stamina for what troubled waters lie ahead!