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.

Sunday, December 18

I Fell in Love. With a Guy.

I fell in love.

With a guy.

Yeah. I know. I wasn't ever expecting it to happen either.

But falling in love is crazy.

Looking back I've probably started to fall for a few guys in the past. Maybe almost fallen for 2 or 3, and crushed on a dozen more.

Before you get ideas, the relationship is already over, and it didn't ever go anywhere. I never dated the guy, never wanted to, and the friendship has been dissolved completely. He didn't want anything to do with people who were Mormon or gay, and I'm most definitely both.

But it was an experience that helped me understand the world.

I had never really been in love before. I don't find many guys attractive enough for falling in love to be an option. And if I feel attracted to a guy, I usually avoid him. This time, though, a wave of physical and emotional attraction washed over me and turned into love a whole lot faster than I was expecting. And suddenly every love song made a whole lot more sense than they did before.

In the weeks since I've read that being in love is like being on drugs. Just thinking about love when you're in love floods the brain with chemicals - hence the stereotypical weak knees, fuzzy mind, inability to speak, and general euphoria about life. Being in love can make anything else doable. And that was totally true in my case - just thinking about the guy I loved made life that much brighter, and when I could see him and talk with him, it felt close to a perfect day.

Did he make my world spin? Yeah. My mind was definitely high on dopamine and doses of every other feel-good chemical. I can understand the desire that other gay men have shared with me - to wake up next to a guy I love, to walk down the street hand-in-hand, to watch the sunset and care for each other and grow old together. To come home and have someone who understands and loves me completely back. To go out and together change the world, knowing someone is there at my side.


Because I want that as well.

I mean, I've been in love. And anyone who has truly felt love... has felt its mind-numbing effects and realizes how sublime a feeling it really is.

From that perspective, it seems understandable of why the world is so adamant that love should prevail over everything else. And perhaps in a world where physicality and sex were wholly separate, everyone would be able to easily follow the gospel and also find people they love. But in my world where all touch has been sexualized, same-sex sexual activity has gone from illegal and taboo to legal to acceptable to embraced and even expected. I can see why "love vs hate" is an issue. Why every gay guy I meet asks me about my feelings about love, and why so many people oppose any seeming attack on the ability to love and spend life with someone, anyone else.

Love is real.

And it can bring real and honest happiness - enough so that many have chosen love over God. Not because they want to sell their souls to sex... but because, at the core of my human existence, I want to feel connected. I want to love and feel loved.

I believe in love. I've seen it, felt it, been carried away by it.

And yet I choose to trust God. 

Not because I reject love, or fight against it to choose the more noble route of faith. No. My choice is not a sacrificial one. I choose to trust God because I'm not willing to give up love *or* faith. I know that God is real, and I will not deny the feelings of hope and peace and joy that the Gospel has brought my life. I know that love is real, and as uncomfortable as it may make me or others, I won't deny the fact that love, even when I fall in love, is amazing. And I know that, by myself, I could navigate life to follow only one...

...and yet both call deeply to my soul.

No. I choose to believe that, by following God, and His commandments, and only by following Him, I will attain the impossible. To have the best of both worlds... something far more sublime than anything brought by either one alone.

Wednesday, December 14

Four Options Survey

A friend asked me to pass this survey along. It takes about an hour to complete, and is being coordinated by a collaborative group with multiple perspectives... which is to say that some of the researchers are pro-religion and pro-celibacy, and some are deeply against.

I want to ask you, if you have ever experienced same-sex attraction, to take the time to fill out this survey. Traditionally, these types of surveys have had far more openly gay (and anti-religious) respondents than those who are quieter about their lives and faith.

One thing I noticed from the very beginning was the definition the survey uses for celibacy: 

"Celibate means committed to not acting sexually with another person."

By focusing on commitment, the survey looks at the internal, forward-facing, values-based direction of a person, and not their actions. This is a huge distinction, and hopefully one that plays out in the results.

Usually surveys look only at actions, and not at, to use the terminology I love, which way the respondents face. I can sin and then turn back to God, just as easily as I can follow the letter of the law and still be facing away from Him.

By using an internal goals-based definition, this survey makes two interesting distinctions:

1. Someone who intends to eventually be sexually active with the same gender is not celibate, even if he has never been sexually active before.  - This separates those who choose celibacy as a personal commitment, versus those who use it only as a temporary means because of circumstance.

2. Someone who has been sexually active with the same gender and has now made and holds the commitment to not be sexually active again is celibate. - This separates those who have been sexually active and now are committed to celibacy from those who have decided to remain sexually active.

I usually don't forward surveys like this. Could you take the time to fill it out?

Saturday, November 26

Am I Facing Up To God, or Do I Face Away?

There is more, I think, to authenticity, than being true to who I am instead of who others think I should be. For in my heart of hearts, who am I, but a soul in the midst of an eternal war of whirlwinds and a battle of desires... with battlefields where I am deeply drawn to either side? How then can it be more right to truly follow a deepest desire within me, and thus truly betray the other just as deep?

For what if I, in being true, betray my own divine?

I think, far greater than being true to the warring soul inside, is choosing who I truly wish that soul to be. For without that choice, I may be true to myself, only to find that I am no one at all.


I've believed that goodness was measured by actions. That by looking at my spiritual and physical resume I could determine if I was on the right path.

The important part, I thought, was the sum total of the things I had done. If I spent time in pornography, I could counter it with service and family and friends. The hidden deceptions of my heart I could expiate by making the world a better place. Every sin had a price that it could be bought, every guilt washed clean through the indulgence of a good deed.

I was wrong.

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Christ teaches that the determination of who I am, and not what I have done - and from thence my choice of eternal destination - is only based on one thing:

Which way I face.

It's the only thing that matters. That's the reason that apostles pray for strength in their dying days. Even men who have done miracles in the name of God can turn away from Him. It's the reason that God reaches out to those who sin. Those who have chosen darkness in the past can transform and exchange their lives for the light of Christ.

And I can only choose one.

"No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
- Matthew 6:24

If I sin and seek to hide or justify my actions, it doesn't matter how good I appear - if I work at the temple or hold a calling as a bishop or love my children or have made the world a better place - I am turned away from God.

And in the same breath, if I truly want to repent and choose to humbly submit my will to God, it doesn't matter what I've done or the breadth of my accomplishments. I am turned to Him, and His Grace can make me whole.

It takes incredible strength to submit to God. It's easy to take control of my life and to choose the path I take. It takes far more conviction and strength of soul to let Him guide my life and set the course of my faith. Those who submit to God are never weak.

It's my choice.

And, at the end of the day, it's the only choice that matters.

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?

Thursday, November 24

Second-class Citizen

I remember once overhearing a conversation among a group of LDS women - singles and leaders from my YSA ward. A woman mentioned that she knew someone who had just broken up with a guy who was attracted to other men. The responses of the other women were telling. 

"Don't ever date someone like that..." 
"She got herself out of a bad situation..." 
"Promise you'll never marry someone who is gay..."

Something inside me broke that day. I had never realized that being gay was seen as a liability in some circles of the Mormon dating world beyond the simple fact that it made dating hard for me.

That experience was years ago.

Someone asked me if I'm at all interested in girls. And I just realized today that I still feel deep shame, and honestly, unworthiness related to that same issue.

But I don't know how to work through it.

There's a girl I know that was part of that conversation. I've had the desire to ask her out before. I didn't. She had a steady boyfriend, and while I'm an awesome guy in most fields, I feel woefully inadequate when it comes to this. Anyone would be a better option than I would... and she had plenty of options. She still does. Years later, she has another boyfriend, and I still haven't ever asked her out or even mentioned that I had wanted to.

Maybe that would be a good thing to do. Just mentioning it doesn't sound as vulnerable as asking. I could mention it.

But vulnerability is what I'm going for. Is putting myself out there so awful? What's the worst that can happen? I've already rejected myself as wholly undesirable, and I know my entire story. No one can top that.

And being ok with vulnerability is what I'm trying to achieve inside myself. While it's unlikely that anything would come of the conversation from a dating perspective, the authenticity (= courage to live boldly and have courage) gained on my part would be a huge boon regardless of result.

But where is the feeling coming from?

And here's me being vulnerable here.

I think it means that I have a ways to go in accepting myself and loving myself. 

I know lots of guys who are paranoid about their family or friends learning about their sexuality... or at least their friends who are also gay. Those I've tried to befriend kept me on the fringe of their lives - sometimes mutual friends are inevitable and they'll make up a story about how we met, but usually they'll go to great lengths to isolate me from ever meeting people in their other lives.

I know the feeling. I've felt, at least somewhat, the same way. I remember being afraid that people would learn I was gay and facing enormous, looming, unknowable-but-awful consequences... supported by a few bad personal experiences and some awful stories.

"What if it goes away? What if I can deal with it by myself? Why do I need to tell anyone? Won't it just make life harder?"

This isn't a post on coming out. That's a personal decision between one person and God, not between me or anyone else.

But I think that (breathe, David... it's going to be ok) this realization that I feel like a second-class citizen in the dating world means I am still at odds with being gay.

 It means that, somewhere inside me, *I* honestly think that being gay is shameful. That it's a liability. Even though I'm upfront and candid with family, friends, and the world about being attracted to guys, even though I've seen how much it has influenced my life and been a mortal experience that has shaped me, I've still bought into the feeling that it's an unsavory part of who I am... and that I'm less valuable as a person (or more specifically, as a potential dating or marriage partner) because it is something I face.


That sucks.

I didn't want to say that. It actually took me a few minutes to even write the last sentence because "sucks" feels like gutter slang to me. I don't say that when I speak. But it's also the only thing that hit the feeling. It's depressing, frustrating, angering, stupid, and a handful of other emotions all crushed into one.



And it's even worse because, likely, if I'm feeling that way, there are a lot of guys out there who feel the same way. And maybe even some who are reading this post and feeling the soul-crushing, gut-twisting shame that I felt while writing it... and wondering just like I am how to get out of it.

I don't know.

But I do know some things I can do to work through it.

I can make the commitment to treat the people in my life like the awesome people that they are - and to never, ever hide myself or them because I'm afraid of someone finding out about me.

I can talk to this girl (or call / write her) and share my thoughts. Not this whole post, but the thoughts I had about asking her out and how feeling second-class made it take so long to share them.

And I can ask God to help me really believe that I am worthwhile, and even spectacular, with all the things that I carry in life. Learning to love myself more is a process - not something I'm going to ever "reach"... but God *does* love me fully, and He can help me along the path to believing more in me.

Friday, November 11

Existential Crises

Most days I find myself facing existential crisis. I don't use that term lightly... and I'm only writing about it because I have finally realized that my daily dose of crisis isn't all that normal. And because being vulnerable - understanding my own weakness - is an important part of thriving in life.

The seed sprouts from a mild sense of disconnection. That can come from pretty much anything - when I misinterpret communication from a friend or even a stranger, when there are delays, and pretty much any time my expectations and reality don't match perfectly.

The sense of disconnection, if it remains and my mind has a moment to think, sensitizes me to one of my personal shame triggers - the deeply set belief that I'm not worthwhile in relationships... and that people would be better off without me in their lives.

My inner persona recoils with shame when the trigger gets flipped. It begins chanting positive affirmations in the hope that one will stick: "I'm not a worthless person. I've done lots of really good things. I make a difference. People love me for who I am... right?"

But in that moment all the things I've ever done don't matter. They're all in the past. They talk about the *past* me - not the current me. And then I am suddenly engaged in a war with myself, feverishly attempting to show that my life and life's activities prove my worth.

My day-to-day flashes before my eyes, from my distant plans for the future down to the things I did just moments before.

Everything gets weighed. Everything gets judged. Does this really make a difference to the world? Does this really prove that I am good?

And if I can't explain how something in my life is essential to the wellbeing of humanity, it gets tossed to the cutting floor.

Then there's free time - pre-existent or created through the culling - and, without skipping a beat, my internal urge demands that each moment be filled with a valuable, meaningful activity that will change the fabric of the world.

If I can do it, then the crisis fades. The shame quells. And the exhausting fear of being a failure quiets into the fear of failing.

But if I come up short - if I can't identify something meaningful enough, or if I lack the resources to work on it, or sometimes without any excuse at all, the feeling escalates to true crisis. Overwhelming shame fills my soul, and I find myself wanting, wishing I could do anything to get away from myself. Sometimes I have the foresight to drug myself with endorphins at the gym. Other times I down an entire jar of peanut butter, even on a fast day. Or I try (it used to work) to drown myself in video games or movies.

Eventually, no matter what happens in my internal war, the feeling subsides. I clean up the wreckage and start my life again.

Good things come from my sorties with meaning. I find myself pushed constantly - daily even - to better understand my role in the universe and how I can play a better part. I think about how I can be a better friend, a better brother, a better father someday, and I make real plans on how to fulfill those goals.

But I am realizing that these constant daily battles are deeply rooted in fear and shame. I am afraid that I'm not enough. I'm ashamed that I'm not good enough. I'm ashamed that I'm not worthwhile as a friend, as a potential husband, as a future father, as a brother and a son. And so many of the good things I do are an attempt to prove to myself that I'm good enough.

But it doesn't work.

Because while I may be able to convince everyone else, doing great and marvelous things will never make me accept myself. A resume full of glorious accomplishments won't take away my flaws and my weaknesses. Nothing will. And only humility, and compassion, could ever allow me to accept myself for who I really am.

I don't yet believe that I am worthy of love. I don't yet believe that I am worthy of friendship or compassion or anything good at all. I've done good things. I've spent my life trying to prove my worth. Most days I'm honestly happy. I spend my hours and minutes doing amazing things and connecting with people in ways I never would have thought possible.

But sometimes I still have trouble believing in me.