Sunday, July 24

Planting Seeds

My aunt posted a photo on Facebook about her emotions watching her son prepare to leave for college.

And I feel torn.

I'm grateful for the rare glimpse into someone else's life. For the emotional connection it gives me.

I still feel torn.

The post was short, brimming with emotion, full of untold stories. It hinted at an incredible depth of relationship and the  mixture of pride, joy, pain, and grief that my aunt feels from watching her son grow and now move to another stage of life.

It made me look at my life - at my job, my calling, my recreation, my blog. And painted in letters bright enough that even I can see it, is a pattern repeated over and over and over again.

At The Soap Factory, my passion is trying to find ways to teach people new things. To open their hearts to new experiences and push them into new territory. It works - I have amazing opportunities to teach about Jesus Christ, to share stories about health (and sometimes soap), and to give advice on every topic under the sun.

In my calling, I greet people who are new to my ward and try to quickly make them feel at home. In a community where there's a huge amount of turnover, and in a ward with boundaries that sometimes feel enormous, my role is helping people instantly be at ease... so that they won't just disappear or hop to another ward the next week. I'm not as good as this one, and I probably won't usually end up being a great friend in the long run, but at least I can tell who's new and who is visiting. And if I'm the only person to shake someone's hand each week, maybe know their name, and share an honest smile, at least one person touched them.

Here at (G)MG I write about my life and then send it into the unknown. People from all over the world read (G)MG - from Malaysia to Africa. I try to accurately capture all the things that happen to me, dig down deeply into my own soul, encapsulate what God is teaching me, and then just push "Publish."

The story repeats itself throughout my life. I find ways to touch people and their lives - to cut through the bulk of social barriers and get close enough to break through and make a difference, sometimes where it's been hard to make a difference before. Even my little sister tells me that every time she's with me, she learns something new.

But it comes with a major caveat.

In most cases, those instant relationships don't last very long. Rarely do they develop into something else.

There are a few major exceptions. My current best friend has somehow survived the chaos of my life and is still here. I'm getting closer to my family as well. There are a few people in my ward that I could and should probably call friends. And there are others.

But, for the vast majority of people I meet, I feel like my social world is the same one where I garden.

I love gardening. I dream of being able to grow beautiful, awesome, unique things that change the world. I wanted to go into horticulture when I was little. Today, I buy heirloom seeds, organic soil, and do everything right. The seeds are planted at just the right depth. Within a few weeks, all sprout and grow beautifully. They get sunshine, just the right amount of water, and an enormous amount of love.

Everything seems right. Even the hardest seeds can sprout with love, patience, and work - from ancient tomatoes to rare Italian Cedro.

And then the hundreds of healthy sprouts just stop growing - completely and totally stop. There are thousands of different reasons why, but by the time I figure out which one it was this time, everything is dead. The garden at my shop had to be moved to the roof because of an infestation of fungus gnats that didn't respond to every possible intervention. When I moved to my current home, I replaced all the soil in my flowerbeds because it was too alkaline, then the next year removed the even more toxic soil I had just laid down (it was literally floating on a thin layer of muck). I stopped composting because the walnut leaves that fell from my trees would just kill everything. And, just recently, we removed the garden completely... and filled it in with lawn.

I am awesome at starting things, at planting seeds.

I can make anything sprout - from the hardest seeds to the most closed hearts and minds.

But only once in a thousand tries do I even dream of being the one to see fruit - like the emotional depth my aunt wrote about with her son.

...

But that's my role, right? Someone prepares the soil, someone plants seeds, someone nurtures them, and someone gathers fruit. I plant seeds. From my blog - which allows me to scatter my thoughts across the globe - to my shop - which allows me to break through and learn about people's needs - my life is all about planting seeds.

And that's ok. Where I plant seeds (and can't get them to grow), someone else can nurture plants but doesn't have the tools to get them started. I have my own place on the pathway to Salvation - and I was given talents to do my part. Today is Pioneer Day here in Utah - a celebration of people whose lives were dedicated to planting real seeds, along with those of faith, work, foundations, and society.

Maybe that's where I've gone wrong in gardening. I think that next year I'll start seeds for gardens... and then give them away to people who can make them thrive.

And, if I'm lucky, maybe they'll share fruit with me.

Thursday, July 21

Everything Gone Wrong, Gone Right

This last week was tough. I gave a fireside for my ward on Sunday. In the days leading up to it, everything in life just seemed to go wrong.

Well, not *everything* - just enough went wrong to make life uncomfortable, but not impossible. In reality they were all little, insignificant things. But the combination definitely matched up with the adage that blessings come after the trials.

My laptop was the first death. I somehow dropped my backpack in the parking garage, and the five-foot fall to concrete smashed the corner, ejected the battery, and messed up the ports on the HP laptop I've nurtured for years. It still worked, but only sometimes. Thankfully, I have some personal property insurance as a birthday gift from my dad each year. The insurance company warned that if the fix was too time-consuming or expensive, they wouldn't fix it. Or return it. They'd just send me a check to buy a new one. So I backed up the data and sent it in. They'll get back to me by the first week in August. In the meantime I was supposed to send artwork to someone. Man.

The air conditioning unit in my shop was the next casualty. Monday morning it just didn't work. The Soap Factory is a second-floor store, so I, my best friend, and all our customers have had to brave 89-degree heat while making soap each day. It sounds far less awful on paper than it was in reality. I almost bought an evaporative cooler. One day I bought 100lbs of ice and just set huge bags of it on the tables out front, trying to cool the room down. Our chocolate melted. Thankfully, after a third of the truffles in the store turned into mush, I approached a restaurant next door. They were willing to let us store chocolate truffles & bars there so the rest would be safe. The A/C tech our landlord uses was crazy busy, but he was able to make time for us. There ended up being two different leaks in piping for our A/C unit, which is (hopefully, as of 9:30 last night - 10 days after it went out) fixed! I am so grateful for air conditioning now. I should have given all my customers free ice-cold water. That idea came a day too late.

Then my phone broke. In reality, all of my charging cables broke, not my phone, but since it was at 10% when they all bit the dust, it may have well been the phone itself. I bought a phone off of KSL. It wasn't new, though, and while it seemed perfect, I realized after a few days that the battery life on the new phone was... about 2 hours on standby. And the cord the guy supplied me with doesn't charge the phone. I had to cut my SIM card to fit inside though, so there was no going back. I tried to buy a third phone as a replacement, but it ended up being locked to the wrong carrier. After talking with customer support reps for over 4 hours, I gave up on that one and just sold it again. I bought another (this is phone #4 in one week) one to try out a new carrier, but then spent another 4 hours attempting to get it activated. It finally worked, and I'm happy with the service, but the process was so painful that I'm wary of porting my phone number over. And somewhere along the way I had to cut up my best friend's SIM card, too - to appease a customer support rep who wasn't even able to do much. Being on the phone that long helped me realize something: I am so grateful that I work with happy people, doing happy things.

Institute was next. Usually I'm on time to Institute - it's a really important part of my week and helps me put things into perspective. Last Wednesday, though, the heat and the constant stream of customers (oh. And the broken phone(s) probably) distracted me until 7:35. I missed half of class and had to sit out in the foyer. Our institute teacher is so popular that his class fills the entire half of the cultural hall and overflows onto chairs and couches outside the doors. I had seen people sitting out there before, but I had never realized how hard it was to hear comments or participate in the lesson. And as I walked out of the shop, a huge group walked in, so as soon as the prayer finished, I went back to work.

Two of our three sinks were next. I walked into the back room halfway through the Friday rush and the sink had somehow emptied itself onto the carpeted floor, which was now sopping wet. I had dozens of customers, and no idea what had happened. I actually still don't know what happened. With *this* much happening, it was pretty obvious that everything that could go wrong, would. The sink in the front stopped draining, but an hour of alternating baking soda & vinegar (not really convenient with a full store, but whatever) fixed that. I mentioned to a customer that likely my microwaves would break next. Not both of them - because that would make work impossible - but one of them, probably the one in front, to make life a little bit harder.

Called it.

Saturday, after hosting a family reunion, our main microwave stopped heating. It still turns on, but nothing gets hot... And I definitely didn't have the time or emotional wherewithal to take it apart. I am ├╝ber-grateful we have a backup. Having to walk to the back of the store is inconvenient, but at least we can work.

There was more. Half a dozen flies flew in when we opened the windows and doors to create airflow. The soaked carpet added mugginess to the already overwhelming heat. The EMV chip reader on our credit card terminal broke. Someone poured a cup of soda into the carpet. I connected one of my interim phones to the wifi hotspot for a few minutes and it used over a gigabyte of data and suspended the store's data plan (which meant we had to create a hotspot from the phone that has a 2-hour battery life). The price we pay for grape seed oil at our current supplier jumped. I arrived at a grocery store to buy important supplies and realized I had no cash, and they didn't take credit cards. I almost got hit twice by people playing Pokemon Go in their cars. My best friend's mom went to the hospital for pneumonia. The brand-new sod in my back yard turned brown even though we ran the sprinklers according to the company's suggestions. And then I couldn't sleep Saturday night.

I think God really wanted me to be humble. And since I'm naturally proud, He had to do a lot to get my attention. I'm grateful to have a Father who's willing to let me go through rough times.

Hopefully it worked as well as He had intended.

The fireside was a huge success. The little front room we met in was packed with people, mostly from my ward with a few friends. I shared some of my story, then took questions anonymously (people wrote them on notecards and I answered them from my personal experience). We got through most of the questions, then ended and had refreshments. It was simple. The response, though, was enormously positive - both in person and in the days since.

Was it worth it?

Yeah. It was.

It's likely that being humbled made me more receptive to the Spirit as I spoke on Sunday night. Partway through, I got a question that asked for personal advice. I had thoughts about what to say, but, as sometimes happens, I felt that I shouldn't share them. I realized that while I was the one speaking out loud, God is the One who answers questions. He's the Source of light, clarity, and peace... and, in all cases, going to Him will get the right answer. And getting close to Him is the whole reason we have this journey. The fireside was His, not mine, and I'm glad that I could be there to watch Him touch the hearts of people I love.

In the days since, life has gone better. In addition to a now-fixed A/C unit, I've had some crazy awesome experiences with customer service that have made me smile from ear to ear.

But that's probably for another post. This one is probably too long already.

Sunday, July 17

Questions / Answers

gave a Q&A Fireside tonight in my ward. We got through most of them, but I promised I'd answer the rest of the questions we didn't have time to cover in person here on (G)MG. Here they all are.


How do you stay strong, and what advice would you give to someone with similar struggles?

I stay strong one day at a time. When temptation comes, I try to get physically away if possible - get up and get moving - or I drop to my knees and pray for help until it passes. What advice? Focus on being as good as you can be, love yourself, forgive yourself, and be willing to let yourself get back up when you fall. Look forward instead of back. Let God take care of your problems instead of worrying about them yourself. Serve others and follow God, and trust that He will make it all work out, even and especially if you don't understand.

What do you do to help you through the downs of your depression?

I don't have depression anymore. But I learned a bunch of coping skills. Some were better - playing a piano outside my home for hours, or forcing myself to exercise until I almost dropped dead. But those required effort that I couldn't always summon. Sometimes I would play video games because they could keep me from turning to addiction for relief, and from wanting to die, for long enough that when I finished I could go to sleep. The best things? People who pulled me out - who came to my house and got me up and took me somewhere they could show me love, doing something I usually enjoy. It didn't make me happy, but people are far better at distracting or coping than even video games. But that didn't happen often.

From your blog experience and interactions, do you feel most people with same-sex attraction want to get married to the opposite gender... or is that too difficult and complicated?

I know that, in my case, I just want to love, be loved, and have a family. There were definitely times that, if I could have snapped my fingers and fallen in love, I would have done it. Marriage has people strongly on both sides. And yet, at least from my limited perspective, getting married seems to be far less important than loving/being loved/having kids in the faithful, Mormon, same-sex attraction community. There are lots of men and women with same-sex attraction who make the decision to be married, and plenty who also decide that waiting on the Lord for that miracle (which may not even happen in this life) isn't worth it. At the beginning of their journey, I think most members of the Church want to be married in the temple, even if they don't understand how it will be possible. As they become more disenchanted with the gospel, it seems like that desire lessens greatly.

Would you say there's a connection between pornography, bipolar, and same-gender attraction? Or are they all different?

I definitely think they're both - totally separate parts of life, but totally interconnected in my life. The lows of bipolar could trigger intense temptations to pornography. Exposure to pornography could influence temptations in same-sex attraction. A lack of understanding about same-sex attraction, or feelings of guilt about pornography, could potentially trigger depressive mood swings. And yet each one can also act completely independently, even in opposition to the direction in which the others are traveling.

What has been the response from the gay community about your blog / choice to live Church standards?

I get ridiculed by people sometimes who claim that my decision to be true to God is not "authentic" to who I "really" am. When I began blogging, some people didn't think I was real at all. One person claimed I was a group of BYU professors, another wrote that I was probably a General Authority undercover. Obviously both were far from the truth. Some people have told me that my existence is a major threat - since I'm faithfully religious, still single, and only attracted to men - apparently my life invalidates some of the assumptions underlying their own. Most probably don't even know I exist, and some reach out to me with questions - wanting to better understand their religious friends or family.

Would you adopt? How do you plan on facing that issue?

I want to have my own kids. Yes, I'd adopt if I needed to, but I'm not going to marry a woman if I'm not interested in having a family with her (and all the prerequisites to making that happen). That wouldn't be fair to me or to her.

How has your life changed since you learned you were attracted to men, and accepted that as part of your life?

I'm a lot more forgiving of myself now. I used to treat myself incredibly harshly. Now I realize that I make mistakes, but so does everyone. The important thing is getting back up and trying again. Another thing that's changed is that I also have a really hard time dating. I used to date a ton. Since I've shared my experiences openly, I haven't gone on dates with many people. It was a lot easier to just not have to say anything - now I feel like I'd have to explain, "I'm not physically attracted to you, but I thought I'd ask you out anyway." - and that just doesn't sound appealing.

I heard it a gay guy who married a friend of his (girl) even though he wasn't attracted to her. What do you think about that? Right/wrong? Would you consider doing that?

Marriage is a totally personal choice. Other than the requirement of man and woman, there are tons of variables in each one. I know that for me, I feel that I'll need to be deeply attracted to a woman to be able to marry her - so I feel I have to wait until I fall in love. It's possible that this guy got a spiritual confirmation that she was the right person even though there wasn't attraction... but I'd be wary. Marriages with same-sex attraction are incredibly difficult even with love and attraction. Without it, they may be beginning one step closer to potential problems.

Do you think viewing pornography led you to be attracted to men?

I don't. I was only ever attracted to the same sex. But the fact that I chose pornography about same-sex relationships, and never viewed or read pornographic material involving women, was actually exacerbated by cultural norms. I learned in Church that women's bodies were sacred and that pornography was seeing them naked. I wasn't ever taught that men's bodies were sacred, and no one ever spoke about male pornography... and so there were times that I honestly told myself (pretty convincingly) that what I was doing wasn't as bad, because there were no women involved.

How have you been able to overcome social difficulties with autism?

For me, the biggest key to overcoming my social failures is having a "role" to play. At Church, I'm a greeter - so I talk with people. I'm a ward missionary. At work, I actually created my own role - one that focuses on the things I love to do best. In relationships.... Um... I'm awful. I can communicate well with people until they get to a certain point of closeness, and then often communication is really hard. My best friend and I have tons of trouble communicating. One thing that has helped, though, is to learn how other people communicate. Just look up autism and social dynamics studies like priming, peer pressure, sarcasm, honesty, candor... it was really eye-opening for me to realize how different "normal" was from my own experience.

My brother just left the Church. How do I answer when he criticizes the Church and its doctrine?

Just bear testimony. Use first person and talk about your own experiences. Don't ever try to conjecture about what someone else feels or why they did what they did. Pray for guidance. And sometimes, if the Spirit prompts you, just be quiet. If your brother already knows your feelings, he might just be looking for a confrontation. Soft words, or silence, can be golden.

Thursday, June 30

I Love My Job

Someone mentioned to me that I haven't blogged about my shop in a while... and that made them concerned that something was wrong. Part of the reason I don't blog about work much is it feels almost commercial... and I promised myself years ago when I began blogging that (Gay) Mormon Guy wouldn't have ads or commercials or whatever.

That said, this is a post about work.

Yesterday work was tough. 

So. Many.  People.

Wednesday has traditionally been an under-the-radar kind of day for The Soap Factory. It's not as slow as Monday, which sometimes is so quiet that I think about closing. It's nowhere near as busy as Saturday. It's just Wednesday.

Except for the last few weeks.

For whatever reason, with the beginning of Summer tourist season, Wednesday in the early afternoon has risen to the busiest time of the week. Last week I thought we were going to drown in customers... and this week had even more people.

I don't run The Soap Factory to make money. If my goal were to make money, I'd be in a different business. I run it because I love it, and because I love being able to interact with people and teach them about life. I love teaching the Gospel to people, testifying about Jesus Christ, and talking about how much He means to me. I love being able to meet people from all over the world, hear their stories, and find ways to help them find happiness and peace.

So, above the requisite number to break even, more customers doesn't mean that business is better. It just means that business is busier.

To be honest, when there are more than 15 people in the store I feel like I lose my ability to really make deep connections with people. Like early yesterday afternoon. People still have a great time, and they write great reviews, but they check out and I feel like I don't even know them. I almost feel like giving them a discount because it feels like they missed out on the personal interaction part of The Soap Factory experience, and indubitably I apologize for being so busy. Contrast that with the times when the shop is quiet and I can talk with people about anything.

Financially, The Soap Factory is in the black. I don't pay myself much... I usually just take home the cash tips from the tip jar... but it makes enough money to pay employees, rent, and all the rest of the costs. Cool new development though: I think that my new budget shows that I might even be able to pay myself minimum wage. 

That'll be a first. :) I've never been able to pay myself hourly in my own business before.

All in all, I find that I love my work. I love the view of the temple outside my window, I love working with my best friend and little sister, I love being downtown Provo, I love meeting new people each day. 

I think I love everything.

Well... almost everything. I could do without the summer heat.

Sunday, June 19

Hope & Trust in God

Sometimes God asks me to believe in what seems impossible.

I'm physically attracted to men.

And physically repulsed by women.

That's a rough thing to write. Repulsion usually carries a deep, painful connotation - I'm repulsed by the smell of rotting garbage, or the offer of drugs or alcohol, or maggots. To say I'm physically repulsed by women, and to put all those in the same category... doesn't seem a very nice thing to do.

But the times I kissed a girl, albeit on stage, I felt almost the same way. The times I tried to imagine myself falling in love with a girl, the feeling came back. It's strong enough to almost want to say, "If you're interested in me, please don't touch me. Please don't kiss me. And please, please, please don't wear revealing clothes in my presence."

All that taken into account, it's hard for me to see myself falling in love with a woman.

But I could fall in love emotionally, or in other ways. It's much harder to see myself being physically attracted to a woman.

And yet God promises that, if I'm faithful, patient, and live my life according to His commandments, someday that'll happen to me. I'll fall in love with a woman, get married, and have a family.

Do I believe it will happen? Yeah. 

Do I understand how it will happen? Not at all. 

Do I know when? Absolutely no idea.

All that, combined with my current repulsion, sometimes makes it a little hard to find peace in the fact that God has my back. 

Part of hope and trust in God is realizing that He has my best interests at heart... and hence He cares about my feelings the same way I do. Earlier this week I was trying to phrase my feelings the right way so that God's promises are most compelling. Wording is pretty important... because choosing the wrong words can make the most beautiful, awesome promise into garbage. 

The promise that "Someday I'll be forever in love with someone I currently find repulsive, showing love in ways that would make my stomach curdle"...

That's not really a promise I want.

And while the words may technically be accurate, they aren't wholly true to the promise that God has made me.

"Someday I'll fall in love with a woman God has chosen for me, get married, and raise a family. And while I don't know who she is or how it will happen, the promise is that it will happen, and and be awesome, and pursuing that path will make me far happier now, then, and after than any other road I could follow."

It's the same promise, but it definitely sounds a whole lot better.

The world around me would tell me I don't need to wait - that I should find a guy to fall in love with and chart my own path. But they don't see the reality. God exists. He is real. He knows me personally. He also knows EVERYTHING. And loves me and wants me to be as happy as possible. That's why He has outlined the Plan - His Plan - and why He wants me to follow it. While I probably could find a guy to love, God knows, and I know deep inside because He has confirmed it to me, that finding and falling for a guy wouldn't be worth selling my soul. God will take care of me, in His time and His way, if I follow Him. 

Perhaps that's one reason why I live the life I do - to learn patience. I must have had a lot of patience to learn. :)

I know that following the path God has revealed, no matter what He asks, will always bring the greatest happiness. I have tough days where I wish that my life were simpler. I have moments where I wonder what life would be like if I answered the call of the world. I realize how easy it really would be to turn away from God and leave it all behind. He will never leave me... and, thankfully, I haven't left Him. Hopefully I never will.

Sunday, June 5

Don't Read This Post.

I'll be honest.

I'm not perfect.

I'm actually nowhere near perfect.

I know that may come as a shock since (G)MG often only shows resolution of the more complex pieces of my life... and doesn't really highlight the times I'm frustrated for reasons too stupid to write about or some of the "lesser" things I wish I could change.

Probably because I know that, by writing about it, it will push me into doing the right thing. And sometimes I don't want to. Or I don't want to try and fail and disappoint myself again.

One of those things is scripture study.

The face-saving part of me - the part that wants David to look and sound perfect for some unknown and probably irrational reason - wants to interject here and say for the record that I read and study the scriptures. It wants to convince you that, while I'm about to tell you something beautiful about myself, you should gloss over the harsh reality that the story actually uncovers. He doesn't want you to read this post at all. The reason actually isn't irrational. The face-saving part of me wants you to like me, and it believes that by pretending to be perfect, or at least softening the imperfections, I'll be more likable and less likely to get hurt.

Don't listen to the face-saving part.

The reality is that even though I think about the scriptures, quote them to people, teach people about the gospel, and even have them on the lock screen of my phone, my personal scripture study has been sorely lacking. 

That means nonexistent.

I've started and stopped new ideas and projects and commitments, from "ponderizing" to reading early in the morning to reading late at night to listening while I exercise, but each time something would break the habit and it would die. Early mornings I fall back asleep. Late nights are too late. Exercise buddies move away or learn they shouldn't be exercising.

And the scripture study linked in the mix gets lost.

I don't want to gloss over that reality, because I think it's a vital part of understanding me. As good as my intentions may have been, they weren't actually doing anything for me when it came to scripture study. I wasn't reading daily, and because I wasn't reading daily, God couldn't give me the guidance and blessings He really wanted to.

That's why what has happened in the last few weeks has been so different.

First I started attending Institute.

I usually work every night of the week. But something happened one day - I think someone new in my ward told me they wanted to go - and I felt the desire to go to Institute. That meant making sure that I don't need to work that night.

So I made plans, told my best friend so he could work that night, and gave my little sister a ride.

And while the actual class I'm attending in Institute is, as it always seems to be, anticlimactic, just being there allows me to think, quietly focus, and receive revelation for my life. (Face-saving David wants to tell you that the Institute teacher is incredibly well-versed, prepares for each lesson, has lots of background information, and is obviously effective at motivating people to come to Institute as the class is packed)

Since then I've made sure to be at Institute each week... even currently riding my bike from work. And it's worth it.

The second thing I've done I also learned about at Church. Someone mentioned that they had heard about someone who, every day after arriving at work a bit early, would take time to study the scriptures.

My work is just across the street from the temple grounds... so each morning after I arrive, I walk across the street, find a shady spot, and read.

In Institute the class I'm currently in is studying the Old Testament. So I started at the beginning of the Bible and began to read.

And it's amazing how enjoyable it's been.

The first week my mind would wander as I sat down to read. I'd get thoughts about work, or life, and after fighting with them I decided to simply take time to write them down.

But since then, as I've taken time to find a place away from worldly distractions (though only a hundred yards away), the stories of the scriptures have come alive again... in a way I remember but hadn't been able to reawaken. 

I find myself laughing at Leah & Rachel's bitter struggle for their husband's affection, mourning the Flood, and feeling intense love for a changed, forgiving Esau when Jacob returned home after being gone for 20 years. And Abraham's lifelong desire to be a father and the blessing of Isaac after 100 years of patiently, faithfully waiting helps me realize that God really does keep His promises - in His own time.

Reading the scriptures each day has made a powerful, positive difference in my life. It's a little bit easier to choose the right when temptations come, and a lot easier to see the hand of God around me.

I think the key for me was scheduling a daily and weekly habit that took me outside of my normal schedule, and took me away from distraction. 

I'm glad it happened. 

Now hopefully I can keep it up.

Sunday, May 29

Some Thoughts

I felt jealous this week.

It was actually last week, but this blog post has sat on my phone, languishing, along with countless others of its (unfinished) kind.

Or at least a twinge of something somewhat like jealousy. Or longing. Or desire. Or whatever.

It was Friday night, and my shop was packed with people. Earlier in the day had been utterly quiet, with only a handful of people walking in. By 8pm, though, almost ten different groups were scattered throughout the process that is Soap Factory.

Usually watching people is just a cognitive process for me: This group seems to be having a good time, that group probably needs some help because their conversation skills seem lacking. This person may be going through a difficult life experience - they'd probably benefit from some extra attention. I'm a host, and my job is to make sure that people have a great, hopefully transformative experience within the process of making soap... and while my emotions are there, I'm a host first and foremost.

But something inside me broke open on Friday, and a flood of emotions burst out.

It's ironic.

I run one of the coolest date spots in Provo.

We were just recognized as a top location on TripAdvisor with their "Certificate of Excellence" award.

But I can't remember the last time *I* went on a date.

And the last time I had plans other than work on a Friday night sounds just as long ago.

But, I choose to work on Friday nights. I could have someone else work just as easily... and part of the reason I work on Fridays is so that I'm distracted.

The problem is that I don't know what I want.

Maybe that's not completely true. Part of me never gave up on the want for my life to be normal, to fall in love with a nice girl, to have a family of my own, to have my share like Job of intense but perishable life trials, and to do all the things that everyone else seems to take for granted.

But most of me knows that stubbornly wanting something doesn't mean it will just come true... no matter how faithful I am or how much I want it.

And isn't my life already incredibly valuable? I mean, if 100 people came to my shop out of all the other things they could do, doesn't that mean that I'm providing a valuable resource to the community and the world? Yes, they go home with memories, better relationships, and their own creations... but I go home knowing that I was instrumental in helping it happen. I watch people who've been hurt find healing, other open their hearts that have been closed, and many laugh when laughter has been gone for far too long. In my shop, parents raise their children and others find a sense of wonder long since lost.

It sounds beautiful.

And it really is.

Which ironically, makes the feeling of, "Is it worth it?" that much more poignant when it comes.

I really, really, really want a family of my own.

To the point that I read the entire Utah statute on foster parenting in the past few weeks... and everything the Church has ever written on the marginal subject of being a single foster parent.

I believe that someday I'll get married and have a family.

I've been reading the Old Testament over the last few weeks, and the story of Abraham spoke to me. My patriarchal blessing talks about Abraham... and how if I'm patient like he was, I'll receive the same blessings he did. He didn't get married young, or have children young. His son Isaac didn't, either. And yet God helped them find happiness... and He also helped them make an impact in their worlds.

So the thought about fostering is there, but it's not a "I'll never get married, so this is the next best." It's more like, "There are kids out there that need someone they can rely on... and while all of them deserve a family with a mom and a dad, some of them are kids that those parents won't or can't currently take. I don't have a family of my own, so I have the ability now to maybe help in my own way."

I don't know how my family would react to that. Or my best friend. Or the people around me. And I'd need not only emotional but real support from them to make it work.

But if I get caught up in too much introspection, this post will die again... but something brought me back to it today. So I want it to survive.

There it is.

I feel like I just found an answer to a question I've had. Last week in Church God told me I needed to move. Where and when and why and how to make that choice have been stirring in my head and heart... and while fostering may not actually be the end destination God has for me in mind, thinking about that direction offers me plenty of guidance in moving.

It doesn't fix the longing, or even address it. God does that to me often - instead of telling me what I want to hear, He tells me what I need to hear... and eventually I find the answers along the way.

And perhaps there's nothing wrong with feeling a deep and powerful longing. When people come into my shop, my need to help others manifests itself there. If I had a family of my own, it's unlikely that I'd spend so much time away from home. Perhaps God simply needs me where I am... or I need to learn something from the people I meet each day.

Either way, He knows what He is doing. And while the longing is still there, so is a deep and abiding happiness. Life is good. God is in control.

Sunday, May 8

Becoming a Parent Someday

My mother is a hero.

She studied rocket science at MIT. Between winning regional diving championships and cooking mass meals for the Institute, she met my dad, who was studying business. He had a year left, and she had two... so she did what her advisers thought impossible and completed her junior and senior years together, taking classes that overlapped and somehow being in two places at the same time.

Her colleagues became astronauts and scientists.

Her rivals won Olympic gold medals.

She became my mom.

Some parents aren't fully present in their children's lives. Many work, spend time with adult friends and family, and spend time in church callings away from home. Somehow, I don't remember that happening with my mom. When my dad lost his job, I always asked to go on excursions to find the sales to restock the food storage we lived on. When I had crazy ideas, she helped me make them work. We built a 12-foot tower from a piece of paper and a foot of tape one night for school, folding and creasing tiny strips into telescoping triangles. I followed her to stake choir practice, to Homemaking, everywhere.

She, like me, has always had trouble making close friends, and we lived hundreds of miles from her family... so she was always there for me. Not overbearing or hovering - I spent plenty of hours hidden in corners reading books and didn't often talk to her about school - but always available when I wanted or needed her help.

Watching my parents has fanned a flame in my own heart - a desire deep inside me that defines me more than anything else in my life - the desire to be a father. To have my own children, to be there in their lives, and to live adventures with them. To teach someone else to build intricate towers late into the night from K'NEX or look through telescopes on the roof at Orion or split hostas and irises until there's nowhere else to put them.

It colors everything I do, everything I plan, everything I want.

I've only ever wanted one thing more:

To be good... and to do the right thing.

In the beginning, I thought I'd get married young, have lots of kids, and live happily ever after with my family. I dated a ton, even though it didn't really work out and caused chaos for everyone involved. I even avoided study abroads and international trips because I thought that I'd have a better chance finding a spouse at home... and wanted to save money for when I did.

As time went on, my concern grew and eventually became enormous. I was getting older, everyone around me was getting married, and I wasn't anywhere close. I realized I had problems that I faced - specifically being attracted to men instead of women - and I hit a wall when I realized that I needed to trust God and let Him worry about the timing of my life. My zealous passion for dating subsided, and I focused, instead of on finding someone, on becoming a better man so that someday I could be a good husband and dad.

I feel like I've made progress.

I've gone to school and learned about myself and others, and found ways to make a difference in the world. I've beaten bipolar and gained enough coping skills that most people can't tell that I have autism. I don't have a lot in financial savings, but I've learned the importance of giving freely and often.

I'm a better man than I was a few years ago. As I've grown older, my dream to be a dad doesn't change, but the possibility of it being realized seems to get smaller and smaller.

Last week I was down on myself as I thought about my life... comparing what I want with what others have... and in my conversation with God He reminded me of the story of Abraham. Abraham was like me. Our childhoods were different, but he wanted to be a dad just like I do. So he did the right things, trusted God, and waited. A few pages later, when Abraham was 100 years old, his son Isaac was born.

The story gave me hope. If God could do miracles for Abraham, He can do miracles for me.

It also opened up my eyes to something that could have saved me a lot of grief. In my patriarchal blessing, it promises that if I "endure to the end," someday I'll be a father. That phrase has always made me wonder. Usually I think of "endure to the end" as something that comes after. I make covenants, see blessings from God, and then endure to the end through the ensuing trials of life. Endure to the end, from that perspective, is a pithy statement that means "stay faithful until I die." How am I supposed to endure to the end before I get married and have kids in this life?

The answer was right there. I was given the same promise that was given to Abraham. And while God always keeps His promises, I have to do my part as well. Abraham waited 100 years for Isaac... which is definitely long enough to count as "enduring to the end" in my book. Maybe that's why waiting is a difficult part of my life, too.

I'm grateful for a mom that has been there for me. For parents who helped me want to be a parent myself. But, most especially, for their focus on doing the right thing. Yes, I may have to wait... but God always keeps His promises, in His time and in His way, yes, but a promise is a promise. If I'm faithful, keep my covenants, and endure to the end, I'll be a dad someday.

Sunday, April 17

Loss

Flashback.

It's a Wednesday, and I am in an Internet cafe far from my apartment and thousands of miles from home. My spot is along the right aisle, on the left hand side, three chairs from the front.

I pull out the chair and try to tune out the chaos of Naples. The train station a block away draws tens of thousands of people... and this cafe is different from the deep downtown where I spend my everyday.

I pull open my email and read.

The chaos doesn't die down. The people keep walking on the street. The ceiling fans still move, slowly churning the air in quiet circles. But, for a moment, my world stops. My heart catches in my throat, and I find myself crying.

A man who lived just across the street from my childhood home for years, who opened his home when his daughters invited me over to play Sonic, just committed suicide.

I don't know him well. They were divorced, she stayed in the house and remarried, and he moved away. I was little for many of the years he was there, and I don't know many people well. Regardless of the reasons, all the excuses that youth can give me are still excuses in my eyes.

Maybe if I had been a better kid... something different would have happened. I could have befriended his daughters better, known him better, been a better neighbor. I've been suicidal. I know what it feels to walk the line between life and death, and I've been closer to death far more times than I can count. And maybe I could have helped. 

I can't now. But maybe I can help the people left behind... who must be feeling pain and guilt far more than I feel.

I can't go to the funeral. I'm a missionary thousands of miles away, and yet I want to be there so much more than here. I write a short message to my family and the family across the street... and like that my time is up.

...

That wasn't the first time someone I knew had taken his life. It wasn't the last, either. Each time, I've felt like my heart was broken into pieces... and even today, 11 years after this flashback (have I really been writing that long?!?), the feelings are just as real. I know that as a little kid I likely had little impact on this man's life - that mental illness and other factors effected far more powerful influences than a 9-year-old would have been able to create - but I still wish I had been "better." I still wonder if I could have done something to help him stay alive.

Suicide seems to be far more common in the worlds my life intersects. People with bipolar seem far more likely to commit suicide than even those with depression. People with autism seem higher risk as well - especially those who want personal contact and can't make it happen. And it seems that being gay - and the isolation that can create regardless of moral and emotional support - makes suicide yet again more likely in those with concurrent mental conditions.

This post isn't about how to fix the problem. If there were a simple way to fix suicide, depression, mental illness, and loneliness, then we would have found it. Sometimes a random act of kindness can make a difference, and sometimes all the love in the world can't make it through. Medications are imperfect and have dramatic, soul-sucking side effects. Psychiatric and other interventions only sometimes work. Each person is unique, and each story different except for the underlying themes of inexplicable pain, isolation, and sadness.

I just want to remind myself that people are important... and that life is fragile. The people I meet, who come into my shop, who pass me on the street, my family and best friend and everyone else - they all live with real issues in their lives. Under the surface, they struggle with pain, sadness, and loneliness just as I do.

And hopefully I can be a better man to help them thrive - not just survive - another day.

Thursday, April 14

Entitlement: Family, Friends, Food, Life, and Other Things I Don't Deserve

There wasn't a firestorm this General Conference. In the past few years, usually at least one talk each Conference will have something that the gay, anti/ex-Mormon world can dredge up as proof of the Church's alleged discrimination. This time, however, all was quiet. There were definitely times that it could have erupted - from the talk about children from non-ideal parenting situations to the multiple about marriage - but it didn't.

That means I can just reflect on Conference.

There were a couple talks this time around that I fell in love with. The one that has stuck was on entitlement - and the basis was this: "The greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement." ("That I Might Draw All Men Unto Me")

The speaker spoke about how the Church's welfare system (focused on self-reliance) exemplifies that knowledge, but went on to say that this change in feeling comes about in every situation, from personal relationships, to those with governments and organizations and stores, to those with God.

Looking at my own life, I can see that it's true.

When I walk into The Thai Kitchen - a small restaurant where the owner knows my name, I feel bad about using the carefully folded paper towels she's placed next to the bathroom sink. I haven't developed a sense of entitlement here - I know how much paper towels cost over time, and I want her to be successful, so I shake my hands dry or wipe them on the sides of my shirt instead.

But when I walked into the bathroom at a huge, international convention center just a few weeks ago, my first thought wasn't saving paper towels. It was on the other extreme of entitledness - "Shouldn't they be providing natural soap to wash our hands with, instead of the artificially-made stuff in these dispensers? This is a natural products expo." I don't have a positive relationship with either the convention center or the group that organizes the expo - in fact, it's quite the opposite... you could say I hate their guts and I'd only tell you that hate is a really strong word. That emotion, mixed with time, has allowed a sense of entitlement to grow without my even knowing it.

Thinking about it took me aback. I usually tell myself that I'm never entitled to anything... and that has honestly been a point of (ironic) pride for me. But I obviously still have a ways to go.

Inside, I still want to be proud of my growth, though. When I go to Church functions and there's nothing for me to eat, I'm honestly okay. I used to get angry that no one offered healthier food options at local gatherings. I don't feel the frustration and loneliness I once did, and I've lost the overzealous desire to preach people away from buying tithe-funded sugar-stupor-inducing brownies and ice cream. I just eat before I go to a church dinner, and I don't expect or feel entitled to food. The rare time there is food I can eat (when it's vegan, doesn't have sugar, and falls on an every-other food day), I feel special.

When I go to Elder's Quorum and a leader who's been married for decades talks about how "everyone" in the quorum can get married if we're willing to date often and just choose a nice girl from the ones available, again, I don't get offended or feel emotionally bitter because he just ignored the people in the room (not just me) who will probably never have that chance. I don't bring up the research that says that Millennials are, on average, far less likely to get married and far less likely to be religious and that we're way ahead of the average game. (Though sometimes I do think, "How absurd would it be if we switched roles and if I, an unmarried guy, went to a married ward full of people two generations away and preached about something important to me? It would be probably just as awfully misinformed as this is.")

When I go to Church or firesides and there never seems to be anything focused on me and my situation (I'm gay, I have major invisible mental issues, I want to be active in the Church, and I want to feel like people know who I am and care about me), I don't get angry or walk out. I just go to feel the Spirit, and, through the Spirit, every generalized message becomes personal.

When the only relationships they talk about at General Conference are marriages... and the word "friendship" is mentioned only once, inside I am still frustrated with my world that has hyper-sexualized and over-romanticized relationships to the point of sacrificing friendship on the altar of sexuality... but I don't feel rancor towards a speaker who didn't mention it. I'm not entitled to telling someone (whether in reality or just talking to myself or a screen) what to say in their Conference talk.

And this has become a self-aggrandizing post. That wasn't where I wanted to go with this... but at least there's emotion now. Obviously I'm still trying to come to grips with the fact that I do sometimes feel entitled, as much as I may tell myself otherwise... and that, as many times as I may deny it, something deep inside me still feels that I deserve.

So that brings me to the next point in the talk.

The solution to entitlement, from the talk, is to close the distance in the relationship. In the case of The Thai Kitchen, I keep a close relationship with the owner, and I'll always want to help her succeed. In the case of the Natural Products Association... um... I don't really care to develop a personal relationship there. Hopefully I can combat the entitlement without having to get any closer (Wow. I didn't realize I felt that intensely.) In the most important case, I can come closer to God and Christ in order to not feel a sense of entitlement in life itself.

In a way, I honestly feel that entitlement is the great temptation... and the great sin... of today's generation. Pornography, immorality, financial fraud, dishonesty, violence, unethical business practices - everything that plagues today's world stems from feelings of entitlement. If I deserve to have my needs met, and they aren't being met, then it makes it easier to justify doing something to meet them, regardless of how bad that action may be. Entitlement also makes it easier to place blame after the fact or when I plan my sins. If I deserve something, I can then claim that any of my unmet needs are proof that someone is denying me a necessary part of my life - whether God, the Church, an organization, government, someone else, or the world - and it doesn't take a lot of mental gymnastics to claim that, since they have denied me what I deserve, the "logical consequence" of their actions (my sin) was their fault as well.

The scary thing is that entitlement doesn't look bad by itself. It almost always masquerades as something else - something logical, persuasive, and even good. It hides in the darkness where few can see it, fueling feelings of anger, frustration, and hurt that ultimately destroy the relationship and hence create even more feelings of entitlement.


At its core though, entitlement is simple:

When I feel that something should have happened to me.

When I feel that something shouldn't have happened to me.

When I feel that I deserve a blessing from God - as great or small as it may be, and as much or little effort as I've put into making it happen - and He should give it to me.

When I feel that I deserve anything from someone else - from love, to food, to a safe place to sleep at night - and they should give it to me.

Since entitlement is a common human condition and always claims innocence, just reading the statements before will probably bring up a dozen objections. What about little children? Aren't they entitled to food and safety? What about people who are in dangerous or toxic relationships? Aren't they entitled to safety and security? What about them and the things they deserve?

That actually brings up another, even darker aspect of entitlement.

Entitlement also rears its head, and is often far more deadly, when I feel entitled to things that aren't even for me:

When I feel that something should have happened to someone else.

When I feel that something shouldn't have happened to someone else.

When I feel that someone else deserves a blessing from God - as great or small as it may be, and as much or little effort as they've put into making it happen - and He should give it to them.

When I feel that someone else deserves anything from someone else - from love, to food, to a safe place to sleep at night - and they should give it to them.

Entitlement comes from a sense of pride - a sense of knowing what I need or knowing what someone else needs better than God or the Church or someone else. And with that sense of pride comes the feeling that, even though a need is unmet, it's up to someone else to meet it. I've even had the audacity to believe that God - an all-powerful being who has deigned to care about my existence - should give me blessings simply because He is perfect, even though I'm not willing to be perfect, or anywhere close.

I look at little children and my heart goes out to them. But that's not because they deserve it. It's because my desire to protect them is an innate social function that is necessary for the survival of the human race. It's a feeling that God gave me, and an instinctual feeling that extends even to animals. Birds will raise nestlings even if they're different from the others. And sometimes I take it a bit too far. I assume that since I have a feeling and a desire, every being in the Universe must also feel the same way, and must devote every possible thing to making my desire come true. Reality is far from that.



The reality is that I don't deserve anything. I don't deserve love, or sex, or family, or friends, or money, or a great job, or even food or health or safety or a place to sleep at night. That's because deserving requires my doing something to deserve it... and, in the grand scheme of things, I have either done absolutely nothing (in the case of myself as an infant) or far worse. At the end of the day, I am a no one or a sinner. The only One who deserved anything was Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life, and hence truly deserved. But, instead, He chose to die and suffer so that I could receive something other than a place in everlasting Hell.

That's right. Hell, and death, are the only things I can ever truly deserve.

Let me say that again.

Hell, and death, are the only things I can ever truly deserve.

Thus all mankind were lost; and behold, they would have been endlessly lost... (Mosiah 16:4)

But that doesn't mean life isn't worth living.

Because, even though I may only truly deserve death and Hell, the God of the Universe has shown me Grace. He has chosen me to be one of His Sons. To live on a breathtakingly beautiful world, surrounded by complex, breathtakingly awe-inspiring beings. To navigate a complicated life full of twists and turns and meanderings, designed specifically to help me find who I am and grow into a better man.


Once I get that - once I realize that it's only through the Grace of God that I am breathing, alive, and mentally sound, once I realize it's only through the kindness and love of my parents that I survived birth, and the founding fathers that I live in a country where I can blog about my beliefs - life actually looks a whole lot more beautiful. Because, at that moment, everything becomes a gift.

Entitlement assumes that I deserve to live life at 100%. Anything less than 100% becomes a "defect," "injustice," or "flaw." Oh. And, by the way, since life can only subtract, it's impossible to reach 100%. The negative percentage points pile up around me, and I use coping mechanisms, self-help, or positive thinking to manage them. Enough of them, and they pull me down, convincing me that, since I have so many flaws, my life isn't worthwhile.

Grace assumes that I deserve to live life at 0%. Anything more than 0% becomes a "talent," "miracle," or "gift." And, by the way, life is full of gifts, and when I start at 0% and add, 100% is only a stepping stone on the way. The positive percentage points pile up around me. Enough of them, and they give me the strength to do anything, convincing me that, since I have so many gifts and talents and blessings and proof that people and God love me, life is amazing.

Life is a gift. I begin deserving nothing, and while the gifts given to me by friends and family and God may seem imperfect, God is completely in control. He knows me, and He knows what I truly need in order to return to Him someday... and, no matter what I face, He is there with me.

For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. (D&C 46:11-12)

In my case, I needed the humility that I found in the depths of depression, where I learned that I was nothing and walked the fine line between life and death. I needed the pain I felt in the darkness of being alone and knowing that only God could get through to me. I needed to have my world shattered by abuse so that He could put it together again. I needed to be loved and rejected and worn and battered and torn.

I'm grateful to have a God who loves me enough to give me His Grace.

It may not be what I want... but it will always be far more than I truly deserve.

Thursday, March 24

The Sea of Loneliness

I am not alone.

On the outside my life looks simple. Almost idyllic. I run my own business and set my own hours to do something I love. I have family and friends and a best friend who will do anything for me. A ward that loves and supports me for who I am. A culture and society and people all around me who love the good things I do and lift me when I fall. Opportunities to share the gospel in my day-to-day life. Frugality, hard work, and faith that kills all potential financial and social stress. 

And yet beneath the surface - far inside the labyrinth of my mind and deep enough that few can find the way - is a wholly different story.

I am lonely.

Researchers say that loneliness shortens lifespan. The feeling of loneliness heightens stress hormones, creates oxidation and cellular damage, and ultimately contributes to premature death on the cellular level. Some claim that few other chronic conditions have such a dramatic impact on health.

Loneliness ultimately comes from an unmet need based in others. I feel a need to emotionally connect. Then I reach out to others. If they don't fill the need, then I feel loneliness and have to find coping strategies to offset the emotional distress.

In most cases, and for most people, the feeling can go away. Loneliness, while a common human condition, is extremely curable, especially with the help of someone who cares. If not, then the usual prescription is reaching out to others and serving them. Being friendly. Serving. Opening emotions to people and then, by the grace of God, finding people who share passions, interests, and love. That hope - that loneliness is only a temporary condition - is one reason that some researchers have stated that avoiding loneliness is a major pursuit in the human condition.

It's important to state here that loneliness is only loosely connected with another human state - that of being alone. It is possible to be completely alone, surrounded by no one, and to feel no loneliness. On the other side, it is possible to be surrounded by friends, family, loved ones, and people who care deeply... and to feel utterly alone. This is because loneliness is an internal condition - and while it is usually responsive to outside influences, and even acutely dependent on the outside, sometimes it's not.

When I reach out and do "the right things" in my mind to alleviate loneliness, and the loneliness doesn't go away, whether because people aren't available or can't meet the need I have, that abuses the cycle. I lose faith in "the right things" as a source of personal help and now have heightened emotional distress to deal with. I can self-medicate with drugs or pornography or video games - designed to depress the emotion and the need to connect to lower the emotional pain. Or I can invest even more energy into connection - hypersensitizing the need and becoming far more friendly, helpful, and serving. Engage in the community, reach out to others, and do far more of "the right things" with the hope that the need will be met.

I personally have a third option as well - one that isn't as widely available. Sometimes I can just turn off my emotions. No drugs or outside help required.

But none of those can truly displace the original cycle. Video games and drugs and self-numbing can distract from reality, and serving others can temporarily replace the feeling of loneliness with another... but they don't serve as a true replacement. They don't cure loneliness.

And that's what has made my therapists cry.

I'm rarely alone. I have people in my life who honestly care about me and try to understand me. I have time to myself to write and think. I can have deep, honest conversations. My job is amazing. Life looks perfect on the outside, and sometimes I can convince myself that it's true.

The reality is that I am excruciatingly lonely - so much that when I let the feeling stay, it feels like it is choking the breath from my chest. It's an intensely despairing loneliness, one that burns out my desire to even move or breathe or think. It's not depression. Depression is like a heavy fog of darkness that blots out the light and weighs me down, making it impossible to see anything at all. Loneliness is totally different.

I was meditating, and in my mind my life became a bustling city. Relationships, habits, and goals are buildings and parks and foot paths and lights with thousands of people walking and talking here and there, each one impacting my life in its own way. Beneath it all, though, is a pulsing sound, and a pulsing feeling - one that no one else notices but me. I know the feeling. It's always there, pulsing in waves that come and go, pushing and pulling me. It's loneliness. I'm drawn to find it - to see the source - and so I go down, beneath the surface, until I do. 

And there, under the footings of my life, I find a sea. 

A literal sea of feeling and emotion within me. 

Being there overwhelms me. The feeling is intense. Intense like smelling something that makes me gag or a mixture of being smashed and cut and burned and smothered all at once, but somehow more intense than those could ever be. It's crushing and deadening and terrifying and impossibly huge - so much so that trying to look at it and understand it makes me avert my gaze. The first few times I do. With only those cursory glances, this feeling seems somehow more massive than any other emotion I've ever felt. It scares me. And when I look at it in the eye, when I take the courage to look out across and into the depths, I realize that it's far bigger than I ever imagined.

It seems to go on forever. 

Endlessly wide in every direction. Endlessly deep.

It's almost awesome how enormous and enveloping it is. My sea of loneliness is black and liquid, with a viscosity somewhere around thick oil. Does it reflect light? I think so, but I look at it more closely to see, and the expanse consumes everything. I can't see at all. Looking at it makes it impossible to look away.

I don't know if loneliness would catch fire. It has no smell... and, I realize now, no sound, either.

I feel something pulsing in my chest, and I remember that I'm not just a tourist here. Each wave of the sea is actually a throb deep inside my heart. This enormous, seemingly infinite depth of loneliness hidden beneath the surface of my reality... is my reality. And all the buildings and structures, all the people standing on the surface don't change that reality. 

Among the tumult of emotions I face, one surpasses them all.

I am lonely.

Deeply, utterly, inescapably, crushingly lonely.

I go back up to the surface and the bustle of activity has stopped. People wonder what's wrong. They can feel the pulsing beneath the surface. They want to see it. They want to help.

I take one by the hand and lead them through the labyrinths, down closer to the sea. But long before we arrive at the shores, she has felt enough and pulls me back up. She takes me to her own world and shows me that she feels loneliness, too. That everyone feels loneliness, that it is part of human existence or at least part of many or some or even just another. Then she walks away. I stand, stunned, and then realize she simply doesn't understand. She didn't want to. She wanted to fix it. For her, perhaps knowing that loneliness is part of mortality gives her the strength to reach out and befriend others, or to weather a specific trial. She has information that strengthens her, and this information is supposed to soak up the sea within me. It does not.

I try again, and this time the journey is even shorter. We begin descending, then shortly rising up again. He doesn't want to see it. The story repeats over and over and over. Each time, as we rise, I hear advice, counsel, warnings, stories... all given with the hope that they will quench or at least still the rumblings in my soul. Most are well-meant. Be friendly. Serve others. Others, while also perhaps well-intentioned, are subversive. "Get a boyfriend. Find a husband. Leave the Church. Try it... because you'll never know until you try." (I'm not the new kid on the block. I've spoken with thousands of people - gay, straight, Mormon, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and unbelieving. I've heard enough stories to see at least some patterns. Getting a boyfriend or rejecting God, while it may seem to cause temporary absolution, is not going to fix my loneliness or any other problem.) I follow the counsels that align with God, hoping, as they do, that these newest attempts will work. They do not.

Few people have made it far enough to truly see my sea of loneliness. A therapist who broke down in tears. A girl I had never met who then had nightmares for months. Another who, days later, tried to commit suicide, facing newfound depression triggered in that moment. Ironically, strangers can make the journey. Some seem to go mad when they arrive. But those closest to me rarely finish.

I think it is because loneliness is such a common human emotion, and one that is seemingly easily understood. Cultures around the world teach that friendship and love cures loneliness. Listening cures it. Understanding cures it. Caring cures it. We've learned that, alone, people can weather loneliness and find healthy ways to cope... but we also believe that a truly loving friend has the ability to make it all better. That's what loneliness is, isn't it? Needing someone who cares and understands? And so those who have no felt need to be my friend can make the journey to the sea of loneliness and feel its breadth... but those who are tied to me find themselves unwilling to go further, because seeing it and feeling it, in their eyes, makes them less worthwhile.

People who love have a hard time handling loneliness in those they love. I know I do. Even though my experience is my own, I believe that if I listen, understand, and care enough, I can help someone else not feel lonely. And it works. We read and talk to those in comas so they feel loved, and it gives them the strength to stay alive. We listen to friends and strangers pour out their hearts and they find the will to go on another day. It is only when we've done our best, and so have they, that the pain becomes too intense to understand.

I think, though, that I am different. Is it possible that I've just gotten it wrong and the loneliness I feel is my fault or the fault of those around me? Maybe. But it's far more likely that I am wired for loneliness - that, like those who live in chronic pain or are born blind or tall or short, loneliness is just part of who I am. My loneliness doesn't go away. It stays. It makes it really hard to be my friend, since we ascribe loneliness to a lack of meaningful friendship. But I choose to believe that it's not the fault of the people around me, or my own, but a gift from God to make me into the person I am.

Loneliness is the foundation of my reality. The habits and structures and relationships of my life are built on a foundation of intense loneliness... and out of the desire to help others who feel, at least somewhat, the same way. I stand at the door of my chapel and greet people because I am lonely. I invite people to activities and do my home teaching and blog at (Gay) Mormon Guy and run my shop and make friends and do almost everything valuable in my life because I am lonely. Not because I believe that it will go away, but because that loneliness fills me with a need to help others. It reminds me that there are people in the world that feel acute, intense, enormous pain... and that I can do something to help.

If I weren't lonely, I wouldn't care about others. Honestly and truthfully, I don't think I would. From my perspective, every other human emotion is endurable and people can deal with it on their own. I've felt pain, hunger and fear, loss, frustration, anger, sadness, depression... and all of them are emotions that have solutions that people have to implement by themselves. I can share information, but I can't fix it. But loneliness... my experience notwithstanding, loneliness you don't solve by being alone. There is nothing worse than loneliness. And to fix it, loneliness needs someone else. And the only someone else I have is me.

This is my reality. I am friendly, outgoing, and surrounded by people who love me. I am honest in my relationships and committed to my friends. I have a best friend who will do anything for me, a supportive family, and mentors I can turn to. My life has meaning, and I feel infinite love from God.

And I am lonely.

And that's ok.

It's ok to walk with me to my sea of loneliness and then to sit with me and see me in pain and not be able to do anything about it. To tell me and show me that you care even when you know it doesn't change the sea inside. To do everything you can to make a difference even if it doesn't seem to. Perhaps that will help us both to realize that friendship and human interaction are about something deeper than just quenching loneliness and filling unmet emotional needs - that you and I are here to do far more than to love and feel loved.

Wednesday, March 16

North Star and the 2016 North Star Conference - "Upon the Rock of Christ"

It's been a while since I did anything with North Star.

North Star is a multi-faceted organization. As a base, the organization provides resources for members of the LDS Church and community to help them understand and navigate issues surrounding sexuality. Under that umbrella, North Star organizes inspirational firesides, encourages positive blog posts, holds annual conferences, and publishes information on same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria, and a bunch of other issues. North Star is somewhat unique (and, from my perspective, this is an absolute necessity) in its role of explicitly and exclusively affirming the LDS faith. (There are dozens of organizations that encourage exploration of sexuality within Mormonism and, whether to avoid hurt feelings or send subliminal messages, do not officially support LDS doctrine. This inevitably leads to the propagation of anti-Mormon messages.)

I was actually on the Executive Committee of North Star for a little while. I didn't accomplish much while in office. I left after only a few months because I was stressed with issues in life, because I didn't like meetings, and because I had strong feelings about direction that didn't seem to match with what was going to happen.

So I took a break.

Some back story is probably required here.

For many people helped by North Star, the defining characteristic of North Star is the camaraderie gained through association. North Star hosts a number of private email and Facebook groups, and, to many people, "North Star" is a Facebook group or discussion group itself, or a group of people who show up to a fireside or event. To join groups, individuals pledge to follow a strict code of conduct, and the groups and posts have assigned moderators, but like any other discussion board where moderation happens after the fact, a lot gets through, and moderation is hard to enforce or determine where to draw the line (hence why (G)MG is not moderated after the fact. Every comment that goes up gets approved before it does, and there are plenty that don't just because). And, since the Facebook group uses people's real identity, things can happen that are less than ideal. For many people, events and communications sponsored by North Star are inspiring and uplifting, but for a few, an anti-Mormon post on their Facebook feed or the person who breaks the code of conduct and acts inappropriately in a personal message or in person can lead to much more negative experiences.

The issue is that North Star serves a huge, diverse population with incredibly diverse needs. While those who are first coming to terms with their sexuality may crave and need security, anonymity, and positive reinforcement in a completely safe environment, those who have progressed and developed their own testimonies and personal strength find value in openness, friendship, and the ability to be themselves around others. Ideally, perhaps North Star would offer different resources to different people along the way, but most people learn of the organization through the resources that would be offered last - the in-person or open groups.

From my spot here at (G)MG I've seen a lot of people in pain. I've met countless people who have made bad decisions and are trying to clean up the mess... and ultimately that's where my heart lies. There are plenty of people who have come to terms with their sexuality, perhaps found a spouse (if they're lucky enough / blessed to have that in this life), and risen from their addictions into healthy living... but there are plenty who have not. I'm an idealist. And I wanted North Star to be an ideal resource for them. Or, perhaps more accurately, for what I assumed their needs to be based on my own personal experience.

You see, when I looked for help while struggling through addiction, I couldn't find anything. The world seemed totally blank and dismal, and the lack of information on the topic made me honestly think that I was the only guy in the Church who was attracted to other men. All the blogs I found were of people who had left, or were obviously in the process of leaving the faith. I had nothing.

I just wanted someone to answer my questions. Someone to talk to. I didn't need to know their name, or go bowling with them, or do anything else. I had a social life of my own, with my own ward and people who cared about me for me. I just needed someone who could help me understand part of me that no one else could, in a way that made me feel understood.

The difficulty is that what I wanted (and what I as an Executive Committee member wanted North Star to exclusively become) - a personal source of honest, safe, and reliable information from someone who could help me understand - would be incredibly resource-intensive to create and maintain.

And the fact that I also wanted to eliminate any potential source of danger until people had proven they were completely safe (which would have meant shutting down the Facebook groups, turning the email groups into completely pre-moderated groups or boards, and only inviting limited members to in-person events)...

Yeah.

Part of me feels that I'm like the dad in Finding Nemo. I've seen and felt so much pain in the past that I have trouble letting people go into situations where they could get hurt.

But another part of me still feels the pain watching people in the past, and still sees the danger. If I'm in a deeply compromised emotional state, feeling alone, and stuck in addiction (the exact state when I began searching for help), and my first introduction to the gay Mormon community is an event where I meet someone really attractive who shares my feelings, wants to be my friend, and is also deeply unhealthy, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize how easily and likely it is that we would make really bad decisions. Yes, I could go find someone like that on my own, but that's far less likely for an aspiring saint than befriending someone with good intentions and having things go out of control.

Along with the stress of life and work, that's why I took a break. I stopped mentioning North Star to people who turned to me for help, buried myself in my own little world of (G)MG, and pulled myself away.

But I'm going to the annual conference this year. It's being held at the Provo Marriott - a block from my shop - and I feel like I should give North Star another chance. Every organization has problems - groups are made of imperfect people - but at its core, North Star was founded to help people... and it does. As I said at the beginning, it's one of the few that officially supports the Church, and the volunteer forces behind the group are small. By withdrawing, I only give more space to the people on the other side. It would be like shutting down (G)MG because of haters or hate mail.

And that's the other part. North Star can't be everything to everyone, and it can't meet the needs of all the people who come for help. But, then again, it doesn't need to, because today there are other places where those needs are better met. Places that were far less common just a couple years ago. Inspired bishops trained on the topic who can give personal counsel. Specific doctrine and General Conference talks given by Church leaders. And here at (G)MG, I've created an imperfect, deeply flawed, but hopefully completely safe version of what I wanted when I was looking for help.

I think that's the reality here. There are places to go to find answers, places for spiritual guidance, places of safety, and places for friendship. Each one comes with caveats and warnings. I'm great for blogging and clarity in thought, but I'm a terrible friend (ask my best friend for confirmation - he may deny it, but it's totally true). A North Star event or group may be incredibly unsafe or negative in some circumstances and for some people, but in/for others it can open the door to lasting positive friendships. The key is knowing, communicating, and working with those limitations to achieve the final goal - living the gospel and finding personal happiness and peace.

The North Star Conference is this weekend. It's called "Upon the Rock of Christ," and the Conference is focused on helping people gain personal resources to come unto Christ, develop better relationships, and overcome their own personal roadblocks. The conference schedule and registration is available at www.conference.northstarlds.org - registration is also available at the door.

I'm not sure what my role will be going forward in this community of being gay and Mormon. As I said before, I hate meetings, and I'm an awful friend. Therapy doesn't seem to work for me because I have trouble connecting with therapists. I have a huge aversion to danger, except that I'm sometimes oblivious to dangerous situations. I don't connect with people well, and I honestly feel like people don't want me around (that's a holdover from bipolar if nothing is... or it's a sign of some unsettled deeply rooted emotional problem that I should process here on (G)MG). I've always been a loner, and I'll probably continue to be a loner until God somehow fixes me (or helps me work through it). But, as peripheral as I may be, as difficult as it may be for me to participate, I'm still here. (G)MG still gets views, sometimes my posts go viral... and every so often, someone tells me that I've helped them in their life. The first are spurious, but the last reminds me that I, too, have something valuable to share. I'm part of something bigger - one of many who is trying to help people come unto Christ and find salvation in Him - and God gave me specific talents, blessings, trials, and circumstances so that I could do my part.