Friday, May 26

Awkwardness and Autism

I'm awkward in the worst way possible. When social grace has any leniency towards actions and words, my actions fall neatly within the margin of error. I look normal, sound normal, feel normal to those who interact with me. But when lines of communication get entangled (as they often do), or the stakes of a relationship rise and closeness grows (as usually happens), my dance of normalcy disappears. I find myself blindly making misstep after misstep, until the other dancers simply walk away.

Some people forgive me for my social faux pax... over and over and over again. A rare few see through the muddled mess into who I really am. But I think most people on the receiving end of my chaotic awkwardness feel subconsciously betrayed. I had seemed so easy to befriend at first glance. So straightforward. And then somehow, suddenly, a series of mistakes ensued and the relationship became unbearable.

I get it.

In a perfect world, people would be able to see through the problems that others face. To see them for who they really are and overlook the jarring problems they face. To instantly forgive the autistic people, those with personality disorders, and those facing untold emotional stress... and to be there for them. People would see that under my shortcomings, I live and breath for people. That I care so deeply that my life revolves around them - around guiding strangers to meaning, easing the burdens of the sick, helping anyone who will listen find happiness and peace.

But I don't live in a perfect world. My world is nowhere near perfect.

And in my world, someone who looks and acts normally in most situations, seems sincere, but then makes more and more major social missteps... is usually attributed personality flaws. If the person was a really "good" person, he would just fix his issues.

And so it goes with me.

I've been named by pretty much all of them.

I've been named uncaring, unloving, too caring, too intense, overconfident, unresponsive, creepy, mean, too nice, too invested, not invested enough, too physical, not physical enough, proud, dishonest, too honest, pessimistic, too optimistic, unfaithful, blindly obedient, hypocritical...

And ultimately not worth the effort.

That's reality.

Classes and counseling have given me tools to navigate most situations and look and feel normal. I can interact with most people and they never dream that they're talking with someone whose social persona is riddled with potholes. But I am a walking landmine, and most of my relationships explode.

And even when I tell them (since I often do) that my autism will likely push them away, people pishposh the heartfelt statement... And usually forget I predicted it would happen.

For a guy whose love language is quality time, who loves people more than life itself, and who thrives on deep connections with others, I've got a major problem. And for much of my life that problem has been depressing at best: I'll likely never be as close to people as I want to be. And, in a twist of bitter irony, if I try to get close to them, I run a real and major risk of losing the relationship completely.

So I can be surface-level friends with lots of people. They think I'm normal, a bit standoffish, a bit too proud, a bit too caring. They see chunks of me floating around, but aren't close enough to be smashed by them. The people I want to be close to usually end up running away.

I'm pretty sure I would run away too.

...

That's a pretty depressing reality. But that's part of being autistic. Deeply needing connection with people, and being pushed away by them and labeled as uncaring or broken or creepy or too intense has ripped me apart emotionally time and time again. I can't even count the number of times that I've tried and failed, each time burning yet another potential connection.

Another depressing reality is that there are only so many people with which to try. Propinquity - or the science of physical proximity - shows that most social relationships are based on proximity. Someone who lives just a few minutes away is far more likely to become a friend than someone who lives further... and beyond a given distance, the chance drops to almost zero. I don't travel much, and my ability to communicate through text, email, and social media is even worse than in person.

...

Yeah.

But there's a redeeming reality as well. One that, in the face of my likely hopeless lifelong battle, gives me strength and hope and peace.

God is real. This life isn't all there is. And if I follow Him, it will all work out.

Believing that I have to find love, meaning, connection, and happiness on my own, using the tools and circumstances I've got in life with the people in my small circle of proximity, is a short, honest road to failure and death. I've faced reality, and learned at least one thing after decades of trying: It's not going to happen. Most people, especially those exposed to my greater missteps because I want them in my life, aren't going to forgive my shortcomings or see beyond the issues I face. And my social world is far too small to filter through enough people to find large numbers of people who could look past my problems.

Without God, life is bleak.

With Him, I have faith.

I have no idea what my life will actually entail. I'm pretty sure that I'll fight the demons that surround me for the rest of mortality, hoping to find more truly good people who can see beyond the darkness into the light inside my soul. That I'll struggle to connect with and feel connected to people. And that, wanting only to make them happy, I'll unknowingly betray the people closest to me, creep them out, exhaust their souls, make them cry at night, and fill them with anger and isolation and despair until they run away.

But I'll also be touched by God. Blessed by Him. Cared for by Him. And, every so rarely, the demons will disappear, and I'll connect with someone for a moment - heart to heart, soul to soul - and remember what it's like to be who I really am.

I don't know why, of all the things given to people in life, I have this. Why the kid who loves people more than anything carries a debilitating social disability that draws people in, only to then make them flee in fear. Perhaps it's to help me learn to love more. To see beyond the demons that others face. To love them for who they truly are, even if they have never seen the light inside. Or perhaps it's to help others do the same. To give them a chance to navigate the pitfalls and landmines and find their own ability to love and forgive completely.

Whatever the reason, that's my reality. I'm awkward, disconnected, deceivingly normal, and unforgivably broken. 

But whatever the circumstances may be, with God at my side, I know at least one thing: His grace is sufficient for even me. Real happiness comes from being like God and connecting with Him... a happiness even greater than the human connection I crave, powerful enough to overcome anything and give hope in the darkest of times. 

I am awkward and broken. But with Him, my life will be amazing.

Thursday, May 25

Falling in Love with God (read)

I'm in love.

And it is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. Literally everything else seems to pale in comparison...

.
.
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I got shot down.

And I didn't fall. I'm pretty sure I didn't even feel it. And usually I feel it bad.

There's an interesting story in The Book of Mormon. A Lamanite named Samuel is called by God to preach to the Nephites. He goes into the city, but is rejected and thrown out. While he is on his way home, the Lord inspires him to go back. This time, he climbs the city wall and stands atop the wall preaching to the people.

Some people were touched and changed by Samuel's preaching. Others got really angry and shot him with arrows. But somehow no one was able to hit him. So he finished his message, went home, and we never hear from him again.

I'm usually about as emotionally thin-skinned as someone can get. I fully invest in people and relationships, aware that my heart will likely get shot full of arrows... over and over and over again.

But this week I finally got it.

And by "it" I mean figuring out how to be awesomely happy regardless of what circumstance I'm in. Even if all my relationships fall apart.

I realized this:

By following God I am *guaranteed* the highest measure of happiness.

I've known that for a long time. That's what the gospel teaches - following God will bring the greatest blessings - but somehow I still found myself stuck in the miasma of the day-to-day grind. Frustrated and concerned about this relationship, wondering how that circumstance will turn out, pushed and broken and tossed here and there.

But now I believe it.

And that's it

I don't have to rely on my own lackluster skills in relationship dynamics. I'm autistic, and dumb socially, and I have issues. I don't have to rely on the people on the other side of the relationships I have, or the other people I try to befriend - whether I'll find the *right* people in the limited sphere of the world I can see, or whether they'll accept me.

I don't have to worry about *anything*. 

The promise is that as I commit and dedicate my soul to God, I become His. And He will take care of me, give me happiness, enable me physically, mentally, socially, professionally, and in every way direct my life forever.

And that is amazing.

I got shot down multiple times this past week. The kind of stuff I experienced emotionally would usually leave me totally incapacitated, trying to numb my emotions with a jar of peanut butter, the gym, or the newest stupid video game. 

But this time was different. 

Somehow this week I gave my heart completely to God. And being 100% committed to God, and trusting Him completely, fills me with a sense of... awesome power? Assurance? I thought I had learned to trust God before... but I realize now that I had no idea of the enormous power He had to offer. I'm trying to explain it. It's like knowing the final score of the game that I am playing, while I am playing. Or making up a recipe in the kitchen with the full knowledge that it will be amazing because I've done it so many times before. Knowing that even if this relationship or that friendship explodes entirely, I *will* be happy and find what I need. Seeing the end from the beginning, and knowing completely.

I know that my life will be awesome. I know that I will be happy. I know that God will lead me. And, finally, that knowledge has become a feeling - one that bores deep into my soul.

I think that my problem in the past was that I somehow hadn't given God 100% of my heart. I told Him I believed in Him, that I was willing to follow Him, but I still think that I expected Him to follow my requests. I wanted close friends who understood me, people I could love who loved me back, soulmates to spend my life with. I relied on myself and others to find those - using my own imperfect self to seek out others from a pool of imperfect people to meet my needs. And as I tried, on my own, to find those things, I kept back part of my heart from God. When I inevitably got hurt, I'd turn to Him, but still not give Him everything.

And, just like Zelda's Master Sword, God can't give true happiness until I have completely reached 100%. Only full hearts enable the sword beam. Only a fully given heart can give me what I feel right now.

Today I am, from a social standpoint, in lots of messy situations. I have no idea how my relationships will move - whether they'll go forward, backward, or explode. The chaos and uncertainty there is palpable, and would normally level me to the ground.

And yet I am calm. Collected. Empowered. At peace. Sitting at the bargaining table with all the chips on my side.

And enormously, impossibly happy.

...

I think this is how God feels.

He cries when He sees wickedness and feels rejection, as Enoch saw in the book of Moses. But even if all His children turn away and cease to love Him, He is assured of happiness. He *is* happiness. And the momentary grief is swallowed up in peace and joy beyond comprehension.

This feeling is worth every pain I've ever felt. Every sorrow that has clouded my eyes. Every moment of loneliness, and every burning anguish of my soul. Everything makes sense now. I truly *was* blind. And now I see. The Grace of God has taken hold in my soul.

My life is going to be amazing. Yeah, my heart goes out to people who are in the midst of difficult trials, or who are on the edge of making decisions that will damage their lives. But whether or not the people I care about choose the right, walk with me, or love me back, *my* life will be awesome. If they walk with me, we can both find the road. If not, it will still be amazing. 

I have a testimony that God is real. And, more than that, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds the key to eternal happiness. I can give my heart and soul wholly to God, trust Him completely, and allow Him to chart my path... and in return He will fill me with power, hope, happiness, assurance, and peace.

I think the closest that I've ever felt to being this happy was being in love with someone who loved me back. Being in love, sharing that love, is an awesomely powerful thing.

But even that pales in comparison.

Tuesday, May 23

Love

My earliest memory of love at first sight was in an apartment complex in Italy. I knocked on a door and a woman opened it. In an instant, it was like I had been hit in the gut. God loved this woman, more than I could have ever understood, and for whatever reason I caught a glimmer of that infinite, overwhelming love. I saw what the Gospel could do for her. I saw her family blessed and sealed in the temple. I saw her turning to God during major trials in life and finding meaning, happiness, and peace.

I opened my mouth and began to share the message that I knew would bring her the happiness and peace she desperately desired.

And then she closed the door.

And my heart, still overflowing with emotion, was torn to pieces.

My companion wondered why I was suddenly bawling on a random doorstep. But that's understandable. She was a total stranger. His heart hadn't been torn out. And yet what I felt was real. Real enough that I'm crying as I remember it a decade later. My heart still burns.

And yet, by the time we had walked down a dozen stairs, my tear-filled eyes had somehow turned bright again, and I enthusiastically told the next person of the same message that brought me joy.

Sometime that day, my trainer asked me how it was that I could feel so intensely for someone I had never met... and, more, how I could rebound and keep going when my heart was so incredibly crushed.

And looking back at his question I realized something that day:

I can love people.

In the years since, I've seen that the world is full of people who love by degrees. Most people aren't willing to love completely. They're afraid of sending the wrong messages, they're afraid of everything. Mostly, they're afraid of being hurt - of investing in others too deeply and then being ripped to shreds by shrapnel when it all explodes in flames.

I know I have been.

And yet.

Loving people is worth it. Even if they never love back. Leaning on mortals is worth it. Even if they always let you fall. Caring, praying, fasting for others is worth it, even when nothing ever seems to come of it.

Because *loving* people - really, truly, infinitely loving them and caring about their eternal souls, along with the pain and anguish and joy that comes with it - is an exercise in becoming like God.

God loves. He hurts. He rejoices. He cares about the souls of each and every being on the earth... and He dedicates everything to helping them to become like Him.

This morning I knocked on a metaphoric door and had the same experience I had in Italy. Met a random stranger. Felt an enormous amount of love. Shared a message of hope and peace. Saw how the gospel could change a life, heal a heart, and create a thousand hopes and dreams. 

And they closed the door.

I found myself bawling this morning. And yet somehow moments later had the ability to love and care yet again.

I just want to say that it is worth it. People are worth it, no matter how painful the cost. They are always worth it.

Sunday, May 14

Can I hear the music?


Far too often, I find myself focusing on the things that I *should* do, instead of the joy that the Gospel brings. It can be hard. It can be incredibly hard to dance - perform the actions of the gospel - if I don't feel the same joy that it seems like everyone else feels. But this Mormon message, through its words and unspoken visuals, seems to capture both the anguish that comes from not being able to hear the music, and the joy that comes from dancing when I finally can.

I can hear the music. After years of dancing, I can hear the music.

Sunday, May 7

It's Worth It

The reality of life is that happiness can be found in thousands of places. On the tops of mountains, in starry skies, under branching trees and on windy plains, happiness comes and goes.

There's pleasure in playing sports and eating Cheetos. Smiles to be found in throwing pottery and making soap. Laughter that comes from stand-up comedy and rolling down grassy hills.

And it's real.

In the last few weeks, I've finally organized my business so that, if I don't want to go to work, I don't need to. And along with the crisis of self that entailed I found myself wondering about happiness.

I've believed, innately, that happiness comes from the outside. That marriage and family and raising kids and marshmallows and beautiful clouds would fill my life with joy. 

And they do.

And that's why life is hard.

Because at some point I have to choose. 

The world offers instant mortal happiness, control, and direction. I could chart out my life, go find a guy, fall in love, get married, raise a family, and honestly find happiness in this life.

God also offers happiness. His joy, though, is far less front-loaded. The joy of the Lord comes and lasts, but only as I become a greater man. Major caveat? Undergoing that change takes enormous amounts of effort and a literal transformation of my soul and heart. And the pathway to finding happiness can seems far more nebulous. And it requires more faith than I could ever imagine.

I just want to testify that it is worth it.

It makes sense to me that a true transformation into a being of joy would require the voluntary submission of every part of my soul. From the simple, easily portioned parts of my soul, to the tough, gritty, almost impossible ones to give away.

That said, I definitely don't relish the surrender of my heart. Being forced to choose between what my heart wants and what my soul believes feels like literally ripping my heart from my chest.

But I want to testify that it's worth it.

The happiness, peace, and joy that comes from following Christ and becoming like Him, from peeling away the layers of the natural man and replacing it with light... surpasses anything that the world can offer.

It's worth it.

Sunday, April 16

He is Risen

Life is hard. Times can be difficult, and days long and full of pain. Mine is no exception - the last few months have torn me apart emotionally and given me pause time and time again.

And yet He is Risen.

Jesus Christ - the Son of the Highest, God of the Universe, King of Kings and Lord of Lords - overcame death, sin, and sorrow. And through His Grace, so can I.

There is enormous meaning in sorrow. There is beauty hidden deep in pain. In torrential, even drowning rain comes some of the most powerful messages that eternity can offer.

But some days, the sun shines, the breeze blows, flowers bloom, and God Himself rises from the dead. And somehow, with a miracle that goes beyond any that has ever or ever will be done, offers that same gift to each and every one of us.

Today is that day.

Today is the symbol of rebirth. That death will and must and should come to me - and that I can cast off the natural man and become a new man alive in Christ.

Today is the symbol of change. That I come to Earth an imperfect being and undergo miraculous transformation, through enormous effort... and by infinite grace of God.

Today is the symbol of love. That Jesus Christ suffered so that He could understand *my* pain. To be a part of *my* life... because of a love greater than I can understand. He knows me. He knows what it is to feel my pain, and He has carried my grief and can walk with me along the pathway on which He has already traveled.

At the end of the day, the trials I suffer in life are the very things that make life worthwhile. Today is the reason that life is. That I will face darkness and can find light. That I will face death and will find life. That Jesus Christ is the Life, the Light, and the Savior of my soul.

Christ is Risen. May His Spirit be with you today and always.

Happy Easter.

Monday, March 13

Betrayed

Someone counseled me last night to keep my heart open.

But they had no idea how hurt I was inside.

Keeping an open heart is being open to betrayal, to hurt, to loss and overwhelming pain. It's being willing to emotionally invest in people who might never give back, willing to believe in places that may only lead to sorrow. It's not being blind to people's failures, but being willing to believe in them and their ability to change, to trust them, to give them endless chances to move forward and try again.

It's a tried-and-true method of exchanging love for more hurt than I could ever imagine.

And is it worth it?

Emotionally? No.

I've started keeping track of the friendships I try to develop. And the vast majority end in excruciating pain on my end... usually long before they begin to pay emotional dividends. There is no rational reason for me to share my heart with individuals or the world when for decades doing exactly that has led to pain, betrayal, and realizing that others never really cared in the first place.

In some twisted, or divine, way, though, that same pain has made me a better person. More aware of the pain and sorrow and suffering in the world... and, ironically, it has opened my heart to helping others.

But each time I'm burned I find have a hard time trusting people again. I can trust them to exist, to make mistakes, and perhaps to even bring some sort of temporary respite to life. But can I trust them to be committed? To be honest? Is it wise, or even safe, to give my heart and soul to someone, even when they need it, when so many have crushed it without a word or a care?

That's the thing. Being a true friend to someone requires trust, even in tenuous times. It requires honesty and vulnerability. 

And the reality of the matter is that those will lead to pain... as they have in the far and recent past.

Hence why I am in pain right now.

I want it to stop.

And I could make it happen. I could numb in a thousand different ways - from seeking endorphin highs at the gym to drinking myself to oblivion. And to keep myself safe I could close my heart and simply stop believing in people. 

Closing off to people, and the world, isn't hard... and likely few would even notice.

But that's not what life is, right? It's important to surround myself with good people. To choose my closest friends from only those who have made the same goals and who are committed to being there for me for eternity. But it's also important to love people... to forgive them... and to turn to relationships with the hope that the other person will be there for me - to be reliant and give people the opportunity to be there for me and part of my life a second and a third and a thousand other times.

Dear world, I am hurt. You have betrayed and discarded me once again, when I did everything I knew how... and gave everything I had.

And yet a sense of honor, and need to do the right thing, and whatever else it is, courses through me. Honor sometimes seems masochistic. Why would I jump back into the fray of emotional pain only moments after being destroyed... just because it's the right thing to do?

Because it's the right thing to do.

For everyone else, it seems that the game returns a net positive. And while it may ultimately bring me only pain and misery, at least I can be a friend to someone for a moment along the way... and make the world a little better place. The honor inside me says that my pain is worth less than someone else's... and even if I feel a hundred times more, if I can help someone in need, be there for someone who wants help coming closer to God, then it's worth it.

And I believe that.

God loves and is hurt far more than I could ever imagine. He knows me and my heart. And, thanks to Him... it'll all be ok.

Sunday, March 5

Broken

When life and work are packed, I can almost pretend that my life is normal. I meet new people, help people smile at work, schedule my day to spend time with family and take time to relax.

But often that's not enough to overcome the feelings that undergird the rest.

I feel like I'm broken.

Specifically, I feel like a real friendship with me, a relationship with me, would never be enough for someone else, unless circumstances 'made' them choose me.

There are exceptions. My best friend is there for me whenever I need him... and while we are both broken, we've both put in effort to make the friendship work. My family is always there for me, and one blessing my siblings have is that we forgive quickly.

But I can't shake the feeling that I'm unique from the rest of my world in an awful, terrifying way. That "I am broken... so the only people who would ever be my close friends are people who are broken. And as soon as they're not broken anymore... they won't be close friends anymore."

Part of me knows that can't be completely true.

And part of me believes it to my core.

I mean, for the vast majority of my life people have come and gone. 

With rare exceptions, people don't usually seek me out to be my friend. The people who do are often searching for something specific that I can give instead of searching for *me* - they want someone who can listen, someone who cares, someone who isn't going to pass judgment or who can give advice. Which means that if I want a real friendship, I often end up being the driving force. For whatever reasons, it's incredibly difficult for others to take that role. And when I stop driving - whether from being busy in life or depression or whatever - it just disappears.

Sometimes it disappears anyway.

...

So maybe I'm broken. And this has nothing to do with being attracted to men. I have autism, bipolar, and a host of other things - and they impact my life whether anyone wants them to or not. Whether or not I am broken, however, life is definitely full of broken dreams and shattered relationships regardless of who I am and what I face.

I guess the question is this:

What am I going to do about it?

...

I could stop hoping. I've pulled myself out from the world emotionally because it hurt too much more times than I can count. The greatest pain comes when people close to me turn away or leave my life... so I could live assuming that no one will ever stay. Life can still be incredibly meaningful when I forget myself and work for others, focusing on making every moment worthwhile. That's usually my go-to.

I could numb. There are thousands of things that could distract me from reality and help me forget. Drugs and alcohol are obviously poor choices... but exercise, food, video games, hobbies, tv and movies, books, social media, and more could serve as distractions.

And then Mikey calls for help and interrupts my reverie. My family cares for an angel who has lived with us for a decade. We don't know what is happening, but the past few days she's been hallucinating worms crawling out of her skin, and bugs coating the floor. I go up to get her and she's having trouble understanding that it's Sunday, and everyone else is at Church. Yes, I may be broken, but there are people who need help far more than I do. And my ward doesn't start for a couple more hours.

I sit and read to her, and the feeling of worthlessness and aloneness fades away. My problems seem so small and insignificant in comparison. 

And then I remember the compact I made with God when I first felt wholly broken, years ago. I was as low as I could get - depressed, suicidal, alone, and disconnected... wanting only to die to make the pain go away. And somehow in that moment, I found God, and He made me a deal: I promised to spend my life reaching outward, serving others, choosing the right, focusing on making the world a better place... and He promised that in His own way, and His own time, He would meet my needs and make me whole.

I guess that's the answer.

Do my best, try to love people, try to make the world a better place, and trust that God will make it all work out.

Likely I'll forget again. Life will seem rough, people will come into my life and disappear out of it, I'll feel incredible pain and loneliness and frustration and feel broken beyond belief.

But, for right now, I see purpose in the life I live. God gave me life so that I can do His will. Perhaps, from my current perspective, I *am* broken. But that's ok.

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."

Sunday, February 19

...Strengthen Thy Brethren

I had a dream years ago that has stayed with me ever since.

I was sitting in my bedroom, and my mom came in. She said, "I know what you're going through... and I know what you've done. But I need to tell you that if you don't change you'll lose your ability to help your little brothers."

Or something like that.

The dream was pretty straightforward - God knew me, knew what I had done (both good and bad), and was warning me that if I didn't shape up I would lose my ability to help other people in the world.

At first I wondered how that would happen. Was God going to spiritually smite me, or take away a talent, or invoke divine punishment on my soul to keep me from being around His children?

No. It was much simpler than that.

If I, myself, was not in tune with God, I would slowly lose my ability to see the needs that others have, lose my ability to see their feelings, and lose my ability to inspire them to come unto Christ.

And when someone really needed help, God would send them to someone else.

Not to me.

My own soul hasn't mattered much to me in the course of my life. Whether it's the feeling of, "I'm broken and halfway-damned already" or a piece of bipolar worthlessness speaking, telling me that *my* soul is in danger of hell isn't new news.

But the souls of others...

Other people matter. And the greatest meaning I have in life is helping other people save their souls.

The thought that I needed to repent so that I could be there for others shook me.

And beginning with the dream years ago and stretching through to now, that's one of the things that has the ability to help me fix my life - to pull out of sin and focus on God - realizing that I need to be better if I want to be able to be there for others.

I've seen both sides of the line. Times when I've made epic mistakes, and both felt unworthy to reach out to others and unable to help anyway. Times when I was able to be there for people and touch their hearts in miraculous ways.

I just want to testify that it's worth it.

Staying true to the gospel - by repenting and coming back - is worth it.

Taking the time to read and study the scriptures is worth it.

Praying to God and trusting Him, even and especially when I don't know what tomorrow and life will bring, is worth it.

It's worth it for me.

But, even more in my book, it's worth it for everyone else.

Perhaps before this life God told me what He could give me to help me help others. Depression so I could understand sadness and sorrow. Loneliness to help me reach out to others. A broken heart to push me to heal those around me. Temptation and darkness to help me share light. It would put me in danger, but if I made it out alive, I'd also be able to help others.

I'm sure I would have said yes in a heartbeat.

Now I just need to make good on the promise I made to Him and to myself.

Monday, January 23

Talk - Jan 22

I spoke in Church this week. It was my first talk to my new single adult ward, and the first I've given in almost 6 years. I thought I'd share. :)

<<<

"And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years,
And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,
When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.
For she said, 'If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.'"

For twelve years, this woman was tämē (tahmay) - unclean. Mosiac law dictated that she be isolated – both physically and spiritually – from her community. She was unable to attend the temple, participate in social events, or touch anyone, ever. Anything and anyone she touched was unclean, polluted, and defiled.

Which meant that, for twelve years, she was alone.

My name's David Peterson. I just turned 31 and began attending the ward.

And today I want to talk about something we've all experienced – what it feels like to be lost, alone, and unclean... and how we can grow from that experience.

I look like I should fit in. I grew up the oldest of 9 in the suburbs of Chicago, served a mission in Rome, got my undergrad and masters degrees from BYU. After school, I ended up working for the Church, then for a business consulting firm, did some other random stuff, and finally started a natural health company. I currently run a shop in downtown Provo called The Soap Factory.

But while my resume seems full, the reality is that, deep inside me, I often feel completely broken and alone.

On the outside, the certain woman probably looked normal. We know very little about her, except that the trial she faced was hidden from the world. As are mine. I'm autistic, bipolar, and gay.

As an autist, I struggle to connect with people even when they want to. I'm awkward in ways that make it hard for people to get close to me or even approach me.

With bipolar, I face feelings of worthlessness and depression.

And as a gay Mormon... yeah. As a gay Mormon I find myself forced to choose between two exclusive cultures and communities... yet feeling outcast from both.

I'll start with some background. 

My greatest desire in life is to be a husband and a dad. I want to have a big family and teach my kids the gospel and help them work out their own salvation. I know the Church is true, and I've seen the hand of God guiding my life from day to day. I spend my spare time reading articles about parenting, learning about relationships, and improving my ability to connect with others. Everything I do is in preparation for someday being the best dad in the world.

I'm also not attracted to women, at all. I feel a deeper connection with guys. I'd rather talk with guys than girls, hold hands with guys, and spend my life with guys.

In the gay community, guys my age are usually either looking for long-term relationships that turn into marriage or sex... and I'm not interested in either. Most guys in the gay community aren't interested in becoming friends with someone or starting a relationship that won't lead to something more.

In the Mormon community, most people don't understand what it means to be gay. They don't understand that I want guys to hug me, hold my hand, and look into my eyes without looking away. And if they do understand, they definitely don't want it to happen. I've had many guys never speak to me again when they learned I was gay... and plenty of others who avoid touching me for the same reason. The current iteration of the BYU Honor Code actually bans holding hands if you're gay... but not if you're straight.

Both communities are crystal clear on one thing though – if I want to fully participate in their community, and find all the happiness they offer, I have to find love and raise a family.

There's obviously no way for me to be a part of both... and with the issues I face, I would be hard-pressed to be a part of either. Which ultimately means that oftentimes I feel incredibly alone.

All of us here have likely felt the same way. As members of a single adult ward, we don't have as many structures to support us. When we were young, we had Duty to God and Personal Progress as goals and rulers to determine our progress. Eagle Scout and Seminary, then missions and Institute and college. Those who take the marriage track move on to having children, helping them through life, and then ultimately serving missions with a spouse until you die a happy death surrounded by your descendants.

Those who don't take the marriage track get sort of cast off. In other churches, there are orders for monks and nuns who lives single lives. Church leaders in the Catholic church and some others are always single. But, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, single men and women (and especially single men) aren't really accepted in the LDS Church.

It can be easy to think that God has forgotten about us.

But that is where true faith comes in. 

In CS Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, at one point Screwtape speaks to Wormwood (one devil to another) “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's (God's) will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

True faith can only be forged in the hottest fires... and if we are faithful, God will put us where the fire burns us hottest, then leave us there long enough to burn our souls away. We may feel alone, but He is there, watching, closer than we could ever imagine. And He knows exactly what we need to become the people He sees in us.

And that is what I want you to take away from this talk – no matter what you face, no matter what you've done, no matter how many of your dreams have gone unfulfilled and how many prayers have gone unanswered, turn to God and trust Him. Follow Him. Do what He tells you to do... not because it will bring the blessings you want, when you want them, but because it's the right thing to do. 

Do what is right because it's the right thing to do.

I bear witness that following God is worth it, even when you've lost all hope. It's worth it even if it means going through pain, or sorrow. It's worth it no matter what the alternative.

What does that mean?

Alma taught what this means in Alma 7:23:
"And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. "

In our lives, it means losing our pride. It means that when we mess up, we need to repent. To go to the bishop and confess our sins even when we're afraid that we'll look bad and might lose our membership and all our friends. It means that we need to cut ties with people who pull us away from the gospel and focus on finding friends who will keep us here. It means being willing to do whatever God wants us to do. It means being grateful for the blessings we do receive, even when we don't get the blessings we want. It means being willing to wait, even when it's really, really hard. It means giving up our anger and frustration and turning them into hope. It means that we need to try to do the right thing even when we don't feel like doing the right thing, when it seems that our emotions, the Spirit, and everything else has failed us and when we have no idea how God will ever keep His promises... and when those promises seem like they will never come true.

All of us are sinners somewhere on the pathway to perfection. We move forward and backward, make progress and sin. I'm a sinner. You are a sinner. But where we are on that path doesn't matter nearly as much as which way we are going.

In our darkest hour, it means that we always need to turn to God. 

It doesn't matter how deep the pit
If I look towards the light
If I imagine sunshine
It breaks the darkest night

It doesn't matter how bright the light
If my face is turned away
In my shadow I cast darkness
And dim the brightest day

Both are always present
The darkness and the light
But I can only turn to one
Just one can be in sight

My resume of doings
My friends and my degree
Will never tell the truth
About the soul inside of me

At the end of life but one foundation
Shapes my day-to-day
Am I facing up to God
Or do I face away?


Oftentimes, in the Church, we talk about promised blessings. We talk a lot about promised blessings... and they become like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If we're faithful, someday all of God's promises will come true... and we'll live happily ever after.

Reality is a different story. If we are faithful today, our lives will likely be difficult, painful, and lonely, as they have been in the past. But as we are faithful, we become more like God... and we begin to understand the greatest promised blessing. Happily Ever After is not something we receive. Happily Ever After is something we become... as we become like God.

If I had found my Happily Ever After when I wanted it, my life would be wholly different. I would be different. The circumstances of my life have made me kinder, more loving, more understanding. They pushed me to be friendly, to blog, to start businesses and to be a part of my community in ways I never would have dreamed. I'm grateful that God knew what I needed to find happiness... and had the love and wisdom to withhold the things I thought were right.

My encouragement to each of us is to be as the certain woman – who, after spending her life's savings and pouring out her soul to God, had finally developed the faith to become like Him.

"And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years,
And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,
When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.
For she said, 'If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.'
...
And he saith unto her, 'Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.'"

The miracle of the woman in Jerusalem wasn't physical. It was the spiritual healing – the peace and hope and faith that she had found... that was the miracle. And while God will likely never take away my trials or yours, while we will likely spend a lifetime spurred by unfulfilled desires and dreams and shattered hopes, someday, if we are faithful, we will receive the blessing that we give ourselves – the blessing of true and complete faith in God, becoming Happily Ever After by allowing Him to guide our paths no matter what it is we face.

As we press forward, may we look forward to the day when we, too, will hear the voice of the Lord:

"Thy faith hath made thee whole."

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.