I Am That Tree

Recently, I relapsed quite badly into an addiction I'd sworn would never lead me astray again. But somehow, through carelessness and lust, I found myself falling into it yet again. For the next week following that, I sunk into a rather deep and dark depression, in which I questioned the most crucial aspects of my spiritual belief system. At the core of all of this, guilt burdened me tremendously, to where it felt paralyzing at times. Satan, of course, took tremendous advantage of this - whispering I wasn't good enough, that I could never change, and that things would always remain the same with my addiction. And for a few days, I believed him. While such a short period of time doesn't really compare to the suffering of some who go through a faith crisis for months or even years, I got enough of a taste to comprehend what it looks and feels like, to a small degree. What makes me say this wasn't just having a crisis of faith itself - it's something that occurred during it all...

As I thought more and more about my current situation with addiction, I grew very angry, resentful, bitter, and indifferent towards God and Jesus. I also took on a sort of scoffing, "as-if-you'll-even-help-me" sort of attitude & mentality. Why? A single question was dominating my mind, consuming me with its unanswerable, needling torment. I couldn't figure it out!! The question was:

If God & Jesus really want me to live a righteous, sexually pure life, WHY AREN'T THEY HEALING ME FROM MY ADDICTION?!

Seems to be a fair question, right? Many of us in the LGBT Mormon community, for a multitude of different reasons, struggle with differing addictions. I do not claim any expertise on the subject; I have merely observed this reality as I have fought back against addictions myself. And many, if not most of us, try everything under God's heaven to recover, heal, find sobriety, whatever you want to call it. We try the Church's 12-step addiction recovery program, exercise, studying scriptures more, praying more, plunging ourselves into the depths of family history & genealogy, filtering apps and/or software, and more! Yet, so many of us are coming up short in the long term!! What does this mean for each of us? Does it mean that God & the Savior don't want us to find peace, healing, and wholeness of soul? All of this was whirling through my mind like some kind of cosmic spiritual storm in my spirit. And as I have indicated, I couldn't really do anything about it. At least, not until I grudgingly obeyed a prompting to go to the temple about a week and a half ago.

I arrived at the temple, my heart crushed and bleeding underneath the weight of sin, emotional distress from feeling like my faith was failing me, and both emotional AND spiritual distress from experiencing what surely felt like a realization that neither God nor Jesus would ever, ever heal me. But despite being mostly numb, I still grudgingly and only a little willingly left open the space for my Heavenly Father & Savior to work some kind of miracle. Or, at least to give me something to go on, as I was suffering quite immensely that morning. Donning my street clothes and backpack, I sat in my usual place - through the main entrance, to the right, and straight ahead to the yellow couch. I'd picked that spot because it's usually free of noise in that waiting room, which I need in order to concentrate & tune into personal revelation that I believe God wants me to write down in my journal. I'd been prompted before even leaving my apartment that morning that I needed to study in Jacob 5, which, for those of you who do not know, is the allegory of the olive tree. It essentially tells the story of a servant and his lord (representing Jesus Christ) who work very hard to take care of a great number of olive trees in a vineyard, which represent children of God who have accepted the true gospel of Jesus Christ. At first I didn't really get why I felt prompted to study there. I had an inkling of maybe why this was, but as I started to study, it became very apparent. Let me share with you some groundbreaking answers to my question above I received:

The allegory of the olive tree talks about plucking branches “whose fruit is ​most​ bitter”. The Savior didn’t want any other fruit buth the most bitter removed, which I take to mean the most rotten, or perhaps the most underripe. In my case, it sounds more like it’d be the first - not as a statement of self-deprecation, but rather as a factual, impartial observation of which symbolism most accurately represents what addiction looks like, at its worst The damaging, destructive nature of addiction that starts to especially harm others is the “most bitter” part of my addiction branches. But then comes the especially curious part, wherein Christ says, essentially, that He is doing that (removing the most bitter fruit) so that the tree (representing me in this vein of thought) doesn’t perish, speaking spiritually of course. But that’s not the whole reason - Jesus says that he wants to keep the tree alive to preserve the roots, for His own purpose.

- He goes even further with His servants, telling them to not plucky any wild branches except the most bitter, repeating & thus re-emphasizing the great importance of leaving ​all​ the other wild branches there. And then He tells them, “and in them (i.e., the wild branches) ye shall graft according to that which I have said.” In my life, answers - except the most-needed ones - have been withheld from priesthood leaders so as to keep the delicate spiritual balance in this spiritual grafting process.

- And this “spiritual grafting process” is so that “when they (the roots, representing my testimony & conversion) shall be sufficiently strong perhaps they bring forth good fruit unto me, and I may yet have glory in the fruit of my vineyard.” The help that Christ gives me isn’t Him putting Band-Aids on knife wounds. His help, while seemingly puny & unhelpful, inconsistent, or temporary in its effects, is only such if I consciously choose to view it as those things alone. Rather than this burdensome, gloomy perspective, I could see things for what they really are - a carefully orchestrated-by-Christ spiritual journey in which He is consecrating my addictions to my gain, by "clearing out the bad as the good shall grow" (see below).

- It isn’t necessarily true that Christ sees fit to set me free in the near future. Because He fully comprehends the complexity of my addictions, He consecrates ​everything​ He can about them to my spiritual profit for the future. As Brad Wilcox appropriately wrote in “The Continuous Conversion”, to paraphrase, “With our limited vision and understanding, are we really qualified to judge what is and is not a blessing?” While I believe that the Savior wants me to enjoy the blessings of His kingdom, like the priesthood & the temple endowment, those are ​special​ blessings that require much preparation and a significant change of heart. Perhaps the real blessing in not being healed of my addictions now is so that I can learn crucial lessons like how to become and stay converted, how to draw upon the grace of Jesus Christ for comfort, strength, perspective, and peace, and how it is that I will consciously, fervently choose day by day to stay true to my Savior regardless of the pull of my sexuality. Better to suffer lesser consequences because of lesser covenants, than to make & break higher covenants, perhaps setting myself back in the gospel quite a long ways. 

And, I’m sure that there are other reasons to let me struggle in the place where I am, that I do not see, but that Heavenly Father and the Savior see… So, essentially, it could be that the Savior withholds healing not because He doesn’t want me to choose & have virtue, but rather because He wants me to ​retain​ virtue after choosing and having it. A crucial scripture in these verses for understanding this concept is when the Lord instructs His servants to "clear out the bad as the good shall grow". That is essential to retaining virtue after choosing & having it. And, as I’ve said, surely there are lessons of grace, strength, humility, and more that only the terrible chains of addiction can teach. Maybe it is only by walking through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalms 23:4), that I learn how to have spiritual life “more abundantly” (John 10:10). Speaking of Psalms 23, I’ve realized just how appropriate it is for casting light on this soul-rending, heart-wrenching struggle. The following points are insights from that passage of scripture: 1. Not once is deliverance or an answer to a single prayer mentioned in Psalms 23, hearkening back to the ability of the Lord to be present with me in my sinful addictions - just as He was with Nephi, and most likely with Paul as well (2nd Nephi 5, 2nd Cor. 12:7-10)

2. The phrase, “He leadeth me” is mentioned ​twice​ in this ​very​ short Psalm. Why, though? I believe it’s because the Lord wanted to show me that he isn’t compelling me, dictating me, forcing me, or immediately (or even anytime soon, really) delivering me from my addictions. A perfect leader is true to His title - He ​leads​, He doesn’t tell me exactly what to do or where to go. That wouldn’t be real Love. Herein, then, is found wisdom again in Him, by deciding what a blessing really is for me. Jesus is letting me decide with my agency how to proceed, and is leading me to preserve my roots for “His own purpose”. He is also still preserving the integrity of my testimony & conversion at their core while doing this, with perfect wisdom and divine timing. 

3. David wrote that though he walks through “the valley of the shadow of death”, he will “fear no evil”. I think it’s a ​HUGE ​mistake to only interpret this as adversity facing David, or honestly to interpret it that way at all. I think, given the circumstances of David’s life when he was writing this psalm, it would be ​far​ more accurate to say that this “valley of the shadow of death” was one of grevious sin that he ​walked into​, not some terrible life circumstance that happened to him.

4. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”... to me, this means that, despite being hounded by my addictions, I will still be nourished by the Savior, like the allegory says.

And finally, as one last insight, in the allegory of the olive tree, a servant is speaking to Christ and asking, “Why camest thou hither to plant this tree? Behold, it was the poorest spot in all the vineyard…” And Christ replied, saying, “Counsel me not, behold, I knew it was the poorest spot in all the vineyard. But behold how it hath brought forth much fruit.” <3 <3 <3

My friends, I AM THAT TREE!  Immediately when I read those verses detailing that conversation, I said to myself, "I am that tree!  I have been planted in the worst spot of ground in the whole vineyard of Christ - the whole Church!!"  But what is the Savior's loving reply to the servant, to me, and to all of us??  To paraphrase, it was, "Don't give me advice on how to do my work and my glory of saving & exalting you.  I knew that I was putting you in an infertile, terrible spot of soil, but look how much light, virtue, and goodness you have brought forward out of it!"  From my perspective, my Savior KNEW that He was putting me in circumstances that would eventually influence & lead me into addictive behaviors and addictions themselves, despite the purely loving influence He would exert on me to the best of His ability, what this allegory calls "nourishing (me) all the day long".  So, in His perfect love and wisdom, He decided to keep unconditionally nourishing me every day of my life, because He knew eventually I'd find healing and be all the stronger for it.  I do not even slightly suggest that our Savior enables or allows our sin; I am saying that He works with what He can, given that He must honor our agency and work with our human frailties.  <3  I testify that our Savior, Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father WILL lift us out of our addictions, and heal us by replacing them with far better and beautiful things and people.  But, we have to submit wholly to their timing, and give up our own.  After all, their timing is the only timing in which pain yields to peace, addiction to connection, and sin to holiness and perfect love.  Until next time, my beloved readers & friends... :) :)


Musings on Recent Travels

It's amazing what life can teach you in a seemingly brief handful of days.  Last November, I chose to plan an elaborately long trip to Italy, one that would hand me enough memories for a lifetime.  I took hours and hours to map out everything necessary to make it a reality, as I would be traveling alone and would largely brave the journey without any help.  And honestly, I finished out my plans with some degree of pride in my work, because I'd accomplished something I never had done before - fabricating a solid traveling itinerary for myself only. Before I knew it, I found myself on a plane to Italy in April, which did not fully hit me until the plane actually touched down and I could look outside.  Naturally, I wish that traveling to Europe could be a little more familiar, to where I could experience the excitement and thrill of it a little sooner.  Those emotions having a delay enriches the initial "I'm in Europe" feeling somewhat more, though, so it's hard to say which I'd prefer.  Anyway, as I've been in Italy for nearly 2 weeks, I've been thinking somewhat about a truth that I feel could be highly applicable to any LGBT+ Mormon.  It's correlated directly to my travels, actually...

During this amazingly diverse trip, I have socialized with and befriended more total strangers than I ever do normally.  This is for two reasons: 1.  My opportunities for socializing with people I know back home are limited by the 8-hour time difference between Italy and Utah, and 2.  I've had many more chances to get to know strangers than is typical for me, because of staying in hostels.  Being an extrovert, I've taken advantage of almost all opportunities to socialize with people I don't know at all.  It feeds my emotional needs and my personality in a way that nothing else can.  I thrive off the energy of getting to know people, hearing their stories, and forming emotional connections with these same people.  Although my happiness doesn't depend on others, it is built up by fostering healthy relationships with other human beings.  That leads into the main point of my post today.  So, even before I left on my trip, I realized that I would be involuntarily creating a tremendous, unprecedented amount of space - both physical AND emotional, mind you - between my friends and me.  Part of me really liked the idea of this happening, because I figured maybe a "hard reset" on my friendships is exactly what they needed.  That was my logical part talking.  My emotional, extroverted side of myself panicked a bit, exclaiming, "NO, NO!!!  I can't let my friendships be without attention for that long!  Am I crazy?!"  But, having booked my flights already long before this, I had unknowingly forced myself into the situation.  So, despite having major qualms about leaving my friends behind "unattended", so to speak, I realized I had to face the unavoidable reality my trip had created long before now. 

The connection to the whole LGBT+ Mormon thing?  I'm getting there... ;) ;)  Once life plunged me headfirst into this supposedly terrible quandary, I basically braced myself and told myself I'd just do what I could to maintain my friendships.  But with almost every day being packed with activities, getting to know new friends, figuring out the next leg of my trip, etc, etc, etc, well - I didn't really have a lot of time to keep up.  At times, I would call my mom or dad, and maybe a close friend.  Everyone else?  They fell completely through the cracks where our lives simply could not align.  This taught me something super important - what it feels like to be so innocently and blissfully busy that people I love are on my mind, but beyond my reach.  As I've heard it put in a movie a while back, "I think that sometimes, people forget to love each other.  That doesn't mean that they don't love each other, though."  That statement has always deeply resounded with my heart, because I have sometimes felt neglected by my friends.  Despite my therapist telling me that it is because of differing priorities, schedules, energy levels at the time of attempted communication (such as a text), it didn't really sink in.  As a gay Mormon man, I need platonic, emotionally intimate connection with other men to move forward in the happiest & most fulfilling way.  Without that connection, I experience much greater difficulty in living the virtues Christ wants me to, most especially the Law of Chastity.  So, bringing it back to center, if I feel ignored, rejected by, passed over by, or otherwise pushed aside by my male friends, it can create difficulties in peacefully & happily living a Christ-centered lifestyle. 

The firsthand experience of learning what it's like to lack time, energy, motivation, etc to reply to and/or reach out to those I love has opened my eyes.  I've not been wanting for sufficient empathy and love towards my friends, to where I've become angry or resentful about their lack of reciprocity in our communications.  I can handle some texts that aren't replied to, or a phone call that seemingly goes unnoticed.  But sometimes, a friend will go what feels like FOREVER without responding.  And that, my dear readers, has been very, very problematic up until just recently.  I've always maintained the philosophy that if you love someone, you will make time for them.  And, I've always been right.  Not to stand up on a soapbox, because me being "right" lacked some significant insight.  People do indeed make time for those they truly love, but life can shove some major, major roadblocks in the way of that.  Hence my statement earlier about people simply forgetting to love, instead of not loving at all to begin with.  Unfortunately, because of the intensity of my emotions at times, I got caught up sometimes in the latter way of thinking - that lack of reciprocity automatically meant some kind of lack of love, or even worse, a lack of being lovable on my end.  Wrapped up in this toxic, vicious cycle of thinking, I could grow quite miserable on some days, feeling unloved and/or unlovable.  I can assure you, it is a dark and dismal place to be.  For the LGBT+ Mormon who literally needs that same-sex connection, it only compounds the problem, which is often accompanied by other difficult issues like mental illness, addiction, and the like. 

My message today is simple - step outside your own shoes of life experience for a few minutes, and step inside the shoes of a busy friend.  You may not understand why they put their boyfriend/girlfriend first, or invite out other friends to do things, or even why they favor time with their family constantly, never seeming to have a second thought for you and the friendship you guys share.  I know.  I get it.  I've watched all kinds of social scenarios play out with friends, which leave me wondering what I've done wrong, how my friends could be so "insensitive" or "mean" or even "heartless".  Yep, I've total wondered those things, and even worse than that.  And you know, I honestly believed I had taken my feet outta my shoes and put them in those of my friends'.  Some perspectives, however, can only be attained through one of two avenues:  intense, highly visual meditation, or firsthand experience.  They both accomplish the same purpose - you get to journey down an unfamiliar, difficult path that happens to belong to a person or people that you love very much.  And, if you pay attention and open your heart, something wonderfully eye-opening occurs.  You finally can see with your heart what someone else has been going through, and then your heart softens to where you want to cut that person some slack.  You wholeheartedly, vulnerably plunge yourself into this mutually messy, broken, imperfect human experience we all share, and it leads you to say from your heart, "I have been in this place before, and so I will be, at the very least, kind."

I realize that we, as LGBT+ Mormons, have chosen to offer up the sacrifice of our passions & desires for same-sex romance and physical intimacy on a daily basis.  It hurts sometimes, and we yearn for something to ease the ache, to fill the void it leaves in our hearts for something more.  I testify that as we follow the counsel of this beautifully simple scripture, we will find what we virtuously seek after:

"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." - Luke 6:38  

Give others the benefit of the doubt.  Give them the empathy, compassion, and divine perspective our Savior has into all our lives, which believes the best of everyone and only judges when it has to.  Give other children of God forgiveness when you discover they haven't been as true to your friendship as you would have liked, and give the grace of second, third, and fourth chances to those same friends when such grace is mutually beneficial.  And more than anything, give pure love, God's love to those who least deserve it, or even just those who are tired and trying to love as best as they can.  And, I testify that those we love will give back in time, often when we do not look for that love, or expect its reciprocity.  :) <3  I love you guys... Until next time. :) <3


Feeling It Out, And Bringing It Back In

On Saturday this past weekend, I attended an AMAZING concert that showcased some very gifted local artists in Provo.  I had fun, and ended up staying out very late - 2am, in fact.  Church started at 9:30 the next morning, which may not seem like a big deal to some.  But, I ride public transportation only, which basically means I have to get up at like 8 am at the latest to be ready and on time.  Just was one thing was different, though - I was experiencing a faith crisis that had gradually increased in severity from a few weeks back.  It really reached its apex on Saturday morning, calming down notably in the evening when I attended my concert.  But, then I woke up the next morning and felt like I had been shoved back onto square 1 again.  Lol.  Depressed, groggy, and above all, apathetic as could be, I switched on my smartphone and saw that the time was about 8:30.  "Nope," I said to myself, looking at my phone.  "There's no way I'm gonna be on time, and I can't take the sacrament anyway, so who cares if I miss sacrament meeting?"  By the time I got ready, ate, and left, it turned out to be just late enough that I arrived in time for the last 5 or so minutes of sacrament meeting. 

But...it gets better.  Haha.

You see, I have a lovely lady friend in my ward who I connect with pretty darn well.  We relate in many different respects, and often have lovely conversations with each other.  This lady friend saw me almost immediately when I came into the chapel after sacrament had ended, and she flapped her hands at me to draw me over to her.  My depression was yelling, "No, no, don't talk with her or ANYONE!!! You know you don't want to!"  I ignored that voice's direction, though still very much feeling my overall feeling of gloomy, dark depression.  Right as I sat down she said, "Well hello, Mr. Gloomy!"  Totally nonplussed, all I said was, "Um, what?"  She replied, "Oh, you just look really gloomy today.  What's goin on, how ya doin?"  And although I resisted her initial attempts to figure that out, eventually she coaxed that info out with some loving, validating remarks and questions.  Which also coaxed out a waterfall of tears and blubbering.  I am glad I sat by her, though, because the conversation that followed really lifted a significant burden off my heart and "shoulders", so to speak.  It felt so much better after I had just vented all of my feelings and just given them a fair voice, a fair chance to really be heard.  So, what's even the point of my random, personal story?? Let me tell you...

I have observed in the LGBT+ Mormon community that we handle our attractions & the emotions surrounding them in unhealthy, or at least unhelpful, ways.  Shame, guilt, Church culture, family upbringing, social norms, and other factors prevent us from truly expressing our attractions and the feelings related to them.  For example, I will say something when I see a hot/cute/handsome man in public to either to myself or to a friend.  It validates that my feelings, attractions, thoughts, whatever are NOT bad, but are natural and to be expected on a regular basis, just as is the case with heterosexual men.  I've noticed that when at least a few of us are together, we feel safe making such comments.  Not saying it's for everyone, but why not try it with friends we're close enough with??  The worst that could happen with a true friend is that they'd be uncomfortable, and there would be some temporary awkwardness.  Better to share in the awkwardness with a friend, than to have to sit with it inside, all by yourself.  Nobody around you knows what that restrictive, discomforting, and strange feeling is like...so why not share it sometimes, if they love you?  Haha.   Nothing wrong with that, is there?  "Bear ye one another's burdens, that they may be light."  Yes, this is included in the baptismal covenant we all have taken as members.  I also view it as positive to start a healthy conversation. 

Image result for awkward conversation

However, this is about SO much more than just saying a guy/girl is hot when you're gay, lesbian, bi, or whatever.  It's more than starting a conversation, or sharing your burden with a fellow disciple of Christ.  My post today centers around the perhaps strange idea to run into your attractions & related feelings, rather than avoiding, minimizing, shelving, repressing, or at worst, ignoring them altogether.  The need to love and be loved is the strongest of human needs, and if we're silencing the things inside that speak to unrequited, unfulfilled, or frustrated same-sex love, we are going to suffer for it. And, we do!  There is a reason why you are driven to view porn and to jack off to it, if you'll forgive the crass expression.  There is most definitely a reason why you feel a need to cling to that one man who has opened his heart to you as a good/close friend, or why you're searching for that "one friend who will make everything okay".  And, there is most definitely and beyond a shadow of a doubt a reason why you have periods of "binge gay-ing", where you talk about your gayness (or other form of sexuality), laugh at inappropriate jokes surrounding it, post about it on social media, and essentially keep it in front of your face and others' faces for quite a period of time.  It's because you're not giving your attractions a genuine and productive outlet!  There's quite a difference between just flashing your sexuality about like the U.S. flag for everyone to see and wonder at, and then really sitting with how your sexuality feels, looks, talks, breathes...everything! 

I've written about this before in previous blog posts if you'd like to take a look, but I cannot overemphasize the absolutely essential role of intimate, same-sex friendships.  I really cannot.  These also give a "voice" and "expression" to your sexuality, because it's a way of channeling that unrequited, unfulfilled, and frustrated energy into a number of gospel-related friendships.  When you can't engage in sex or romance with the same sex, it leaves you with only one major option as far as fulfilling emotional intimacy is concerned - platonic relationships.  So, if you've got a bunch of this stagnant, festering romantic and sexual energy directed at the same sex, how can you possibly expect to feel happy and healthy with all that bottled up, with nowhere to go?  You can't!  Lol.  It's impossible.  Wherever desire is left unfulfilled, it must be redirected to a virtuous, gospel-centered outlet as a replacement.  Emotionally intimate friendship is that outlet.  Now, I'm sure you're saying, "But Spencer, I'm lonely and I'm trying to make friends!  It's not working!!"  May I suggest gently and compassionately that perhaps it's time to take things a step further and work at loving yourself?  Obviously, most of us in this situation aren't gazing into a mirror, all in love with ourselves and whatnot.  But, some of us struggle to love ourselves by practicing good self-care, forgiving ourselves, taking it easy on ourselves when we screw up, and so on.  And, I have always firmly believed that it is much, much harder to form healthy, intimate friendships or relationships in general when you struggle to love yourself first.  This is because you cannot draw sufficient water out of a dry or drying-up well.  Cultivating love for yourself in your heart creates a space where you can first take care of yourself, so you can then best love others and form positive, fulfilling friendships/relationships with them.  :) :)

I testify that the Spirit can help you in these endeavors of loving yourself, loving others, and drawing good, loving people into your life.  I testify that I know this because of personal experience.  I also testify from personal experience that the Spirit can witness to you who will be a good friend for you, who to avoid, and also how to have smooth social interactions, by telling what is and is not appropriate in any given situation. :)  I bear my witness that our Heavenly Father and our Savior both love you very, very much, more than you can comprehend, and they DO want you to lead a life that is both centered on Christ and filled with happiness and the joy that only They can give you.  And, if you persevere down the gospel path, I testify last of all that you can find a socially, emotionally, and overall abundant life if you will only learn how to trust your Savior.  He will take you and lead you by the hand, if you are humble (D&C 112:10).  I have experienced this, and I know you can, too.  Love you guys!!!  Until next time... :) :) :) 


Viewing His Identity

It may seem as though I'm "excessive" with my use of the scriptures for inspiration here in my blog, but I strongly believe we cannot turn to any better source for said inspiration.  The word of our Heavenly Father is powerful, and more than sufficient to "tell (us) all things what (we) should do." (2nd Nephi 32:3).  I absolutely love the scriptures for this reason, because digging deep enough into them won't ever provide us with a flawless map for life, but it will give us enough to go on until the Lord gives us more direction.  With that out of the way, then, I'd like to share a scripture, Matthew 22:41-42, which declares:

"While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David."

Now you might be saying to yourself, "Um...what does this have anything to do with what Spencer was just writing about?  That literally makes no sense."  At first glance, I can see how you might think that! ;) :)  Well, let's return to my words for a second.  I wrote that I believe we cannot turn to any better source than the scriptures for inspiration, and I also wrote that they give us enough to go on until the Lord gives us more direction.  That being said, how is it possible to properly draw upon the power of a relationship with Christ, if we do not look at Him in the way our Heavenly Father intended?  As the Book of Mormon teaches in 2nd Nephi 26:24, "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him."  It can be dangerous or at the least, detrimental to think of the Lord Jesus Christ as a "great teacher", "good man", "someone who asks too much of me", or, in the case of the Pharisees, "the son of David" - just another person on the streets, a mortal man making too much of himself to others.  But, we know differently of Him. 

Through ancient and modern revelation, we understand that Jesus Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father.  He is the literal progeny of God, divine in every respect.  In short, He is the Son of God, and this is what He was asking the Pharisees above - if they knew His true identity.  To me, Christ is asking them here, "Do you understand who I am?  Do you comprehend the purpose I have here on the earth right now, or do you just view me as another mortal man?"  Now, let's contrast this with another scriptural example.  In Matthew 16:13-17, it declares,

"...He asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?  And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.  He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?  And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."

Notice how Christ asks first who men say that He is, and the responses His apostles give do not mesh with the truth of His divinity.  But then, distinguishing the difference between the Saints and individuals who do not yet know truth, Jesus asks, "Whom say ye that I am?"  And with a witness that Christ Himself points out comes from our Heavenly Father, Peter answers with the correct answer of truth - that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  So, why does this matter, anyway?  What do all these pretty little scriptures have to do with you and me as fellow participants in the LGBT+ journey of Mormonism, aka the gospel of Jesus Christ?  It all comes down to a clear-cut choice, though it can be anything but simple at times. 

I can choose, in any given set of circumstances, to believe that Jesus Christ was a good man, great teacher, fictitious invention of ancient fanatics, world-changing philosopher, or something along those lines.  I can ignore any small shred of evidence I've received of the reality of His presence and identity in my life, and cast aside the beautiful witnesses of His majestic, sovereign life throughout all His creation in the universe.  Pain that manifests in multiple ways - severe disappointment, death, chronic illness, betrayal, rejection, loneliness, etc, etc - can strongly influence one to reject the idea of an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-present Savior of humankind.  But if you're reading this, I suspect that you've got some little bit of light and truth you're still holding onto - otherwise, why seek after such reading material?  For those of you reading this who still are holding on to even the tiniest bit of light, I challenge you to set your shame, pain, and discomfort aside, and instead take a chance on Jesus again.  Even if it's just a piece at a time, hand Him your heart and soul to show you who He really is - more than all the petty, trivial identities above, and instead an actual, living, breathing Savior who desires to know you as His beloved son or daughter. 

I testify that what we each think of Christ will ultimately shape our journey with Him as LGBT+ sons and daughters of God.  We will slip, we will fall, and we will at times completely crash and burn - but He still loves us anyway.  No matter what happens, if we establish that loving, firm relationship with Jesus Christ, He cannot and will not fail us!  I love Deuteronomy 31:6, which declares, "Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."  And there's also  2nd Timothy 2:13, which says, "If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself."  The phrase "believe not" is better translated from the Greek as "are unfaithful".  So, if we are unfaithful, yet Christ still remains faithful, because He cannot be unfaithful to us by virtue of being a perfectly loving Savior and Redeemer.  Consider what you think of Jesus Christ - what you believe His identity was and is currently in your journey as someone involved with the LGBT+ community.  Is Christ really who He says He is, and who His servants testify Him to be?  I challenge you to delve deep into wrestling prayer with our Father-God, and to gain a witness of the true identity and nature of Christ in your life, personally.  I love you all!!!  Until next time, my friends....


"Every Good Thing Which Is In You"

In Philemon, Paul wrote something that I believe applies to LGBT+ Mormons rather well:

"Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast towards the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.  For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother." (Phil. 1:5-7) 

For clarification, I'll further define a few of the words in this scripture, according to the Greek to English translation of the New Testament.  "Communication" can also be translated as participation or fellowship, "effectual" could also mean active, and "bowels" is also defined as affections or compassion.  With that explanation, then, it becomes clear what doctrine is meant for us in this scripture, at least in part.  Jesus Christ gives everyone an individual purpose in this life, tailored according to their life circumstances, personality, spiritual upbringing, and more.  We all have the common purpose of seeking after our Savior in love and righteousness through His everlasting gospel.  But, in our own personal lives, we employ the virtue taught therein differently.  For example, a single working mother will likely utilize her virtue of patience far more and far differently than, say, her small children.  Likewise, a heterosexual member of the Church will practice charity differently whilst interacting with other members than a LGBT+ member will.  Both are definitely valid executions of this virtue, but diverging paths require one member to act in another way as compared to the other.  My purpose in composing this blog post today is to explore what OUR purpose is as LGBT+ children in our Father's kingdom, both now and in the hereafter of the Millenial Reign of Jesus Christ.  I do not wish to explore our purpose in terms of time, but instead what it is supposed to look like from day to day.  :)

Let's take this verse by verse, then.  The first one declares, "Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast towards the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints."  I believe that our experiences, both positive and negative, as LGBT+ Mormons & individuals can yield an exceptional amount of empathy, love, compassion, faith in Christ, and more.  Perhaps this is why people in our community say we're "special" for being LGBT+ - because our adversity is often impossible to ignore as we suffer pain directly resulting from our diverse sexuality.  And yet, I cannot help but observe that virtue develops gradually in anyone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ.  So for those who choose to follow the Light from Heaven, yes, they will develop testimonies and be converted to Christ.  In this process, that love and faith mentioned above will blossom in their hearts, and they will inevitably share it with others in & out of the Church.  I think the golden message that lies within this verse is just that - ANY member can make a difference by inviting the love of Christ into their lives!!  Most particularly, the verse points this out by using the phrase, "Hearing of thy love and faith..."  I would view it as a good sign indeed if someone had actually heard of my love and faith towards the Savior, and also towards the other members of the Church!  That would mean that people I'm supposed to be spiritually touching first, such as friends and family, are being positively influenced by the love and faith I've intentionally chosen and maintained, despite fierce temptation and general opposition! 

Next verse - "That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus."  I feel like we, as LGBT+ Latter-Day Saints, so often seek to find our place within the figurative & literals walls of the Church.  For many of us, we often feel lonely, misunderstood, and even persecuted at times within our own wards. But, there is a solution. :)  Seeking out opportunities to both fellowship and participate in the gospel will largely eliminate those negative feelings, and will also prevent them from returning.  As part of this journey, I feel Paul's words speak very appropriately to the need for self-love among us.  Even Jesus had an unwavering, majestic aura of self-confidence - particularly when He was ministering to the Israelites according to His anointing, prophesied about in Isaiah 61:1-4.  Therefore, I feel it is perfectly fine to choose to love, over time, everything about ourselves - including the messy, dark, sinful, and weak parts within us.  It is only through becoming familiar with our undesirable parts within that we can have sufficient knowledge to replace them with goodness, light, and virtue.  And as we become familiar with those aspects of ourselves, we particularly must acknowledge "every good thing which is in (us) in Christ Jesus."  To me, this phrase of truth practically commands us to love & embrace every strength and spiritual gift which our Father has given to us!  It means that, through continuing prayer, study in the scriptures, positive inner conversations about ourselves, and more that we draw upon His grace to love ourselves!!  Satan hates himself.  He despises his own company, and so he tries so hard to get us to join him in his wretched misery and self-hatred.  But, we know better, and as Paul taught, "we are not ignorant of his devices (or, tricks)" (2nd Cor. 2:11)

Final verse states, "For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother."  I testify that when we cultivate charity in our lives as much as possible, even seeking out the Savior's grace as needed for tough days, it creates joy and comfort (consolation) in others' lives!!!  Obviously sharing the Lord's love with and for others brightens their day, and leads them along the path of Light.  But, did you ever stop to wonder at how else it might create that joy & comfort for others?  I can think of one way! :)  I don't know about you, but whenever I see someone sharing their love with someone else, my heart thrills with a rapturous feeling of joy, because I love lifting others myself, and comfort, because it reinforces my deep, abiding faith in the inherent goodness & potential of humanity.  Even beyond this, it inspires others to act in a spirit of Love, by spreading the presence of the Spirit throughout others' lives!  How remarkable indeed to consider that you and I can have place in the Lord's Kingdom here in mortality, simply by turning outwards and sharing His love with His children. :)  This is what is meant by "the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother (or, sister)" :)  The inner affections and compassion of the Saints are stirred up, refreshed, and made new by the ones who at least try sometimes to share the Lord's love!  By giving Love selflessly, you and I are giving out God with each act of Love, because Love is His nature indeed (see 1st John 4:8).  And through the "giving out of God", you and I can spread healing, hope, comfort, faith, light, love, and more among everyone.  I testify that Christ can show us "every good thing" that is in us, if only we will let Him.  I love you guys!!! Until next time... :) :) :)


Our Own Brand of Darkness

Ever wondered what exactly the Savior can do with your demons when they're already shrouded in darkness, and then you hide them?  Or, if they somehow just get hidden without much effort on your part?  Sometimes our demons can evade our understanding to some degree, even if we have already been dealing with them for years!  My purpose today is to offer evidence that the Savior can reach out to sort out such "hidden darkness", on the premise of the following scripture:

"...the Messiah should be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of them out of darkness unto light—yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom." (2nd Nephi 3:5, emphasis added, see also JST Genesis 50:25)

What kind of "hidden darkness" do you harbor away from God & the Savior?  I think we all withhold some emotional distress, favorite sin, or even heartwrenching pain that we believe we can "handle" on our own, among other things. Through pride, general stubbornness, and the like, each of us has decided to bear our own burdens - at least in part.  Something feels more gratifying, I think, about "handling things" ourselves. Rather than draw upon an outside power (such as grace), we choose to rely on our own strength.  And consequently, we get the notion that we've accomplished something entirely by ourselves, or at least mostly.  Really, though, it is God's grace that gives us power to breathe, move, think, or act in any fashion (see Mosiah 4:21, Mosiah 2:21).  So, we cannot really say anything of ourselves by way of self-sufficiency or strength or know-how.  Behind the scenes, invisible to the eyes of man, God orchestrates the experience of our lives, while somehow still yielding over our free will to us without any degree of withholding. 

Power definitely exists in realizing this truth.  If we truly comprehend that our Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ are both intensely invested in our day-to-day living, while still honoring our freedom of choice, it opens our eyes to how much they trust us.  They must deeply and intimately value the gift of agency to humankind, because they could effortlessly redirect the foolish and sinful acts we commit in ways that would be forceful rather than loving.  I believe our Father and our Savior both redirect our actions sometimes without violating our agency, but in a spirit of love.  This doesn't violate agency, but rather goes completely along with whatever the individual is choosing.  For example, God might present a different option than alcohol to the raging alcoholic, such as communicating to them the option of a support group, or perhaps leading them into the path of an abstinent, virtuous new friend.  This relates back to my thought process here because it doesn't make sense to choose our darkness over God, simply to fall back on ourselves for strength, comfort, clarity, etc.  We only are falling for the illusion that we are somehow emotionally and spiritually self-sufficient, when really our Father gives us the grace to exist in the first place - much less endure the terrible, consuming darkness we all deal with at times.  He trusts us with the free will we have, to choose Him and His light & goodness.  In return, we can trust Him - that He knows how to lead us in the ultimately most joyful, healing path, a path that empowers us rather than requiring us to search endlessly with our limited knowledge and emotional resources.  Such trust, as in any relationship, needs time and consistency to develop.  But I have faith that a perfect God, who isn't bound by time and who is unfailingly consistent in all things, will see us through this process of developing trust.

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Tentatively stepping into this initially uncertain process of developing trust with our Heavenly Father then, we are definitely justified in proving His words against His actions - while maintaining an eternal perspective, of course.  It is entirely and abominably unfair to God to measure His faithfulness by mortal measuring sticks.  He isn't mortal, and He doesn't work in our time or our way (Isaiah 55:8-9).  God is a glorified being, perfect in every imaginable and unimaginable way, beyond our comprehension in majesty, beauty, love, might, power, and dominion.  And therefore we cannot thrust our finite mortal expectations upon Him, because they are repelled by the aforementioned, glorious characteristics of His person.  Your Father and my Father love us, individually and intimately, in ways we do not yet understand completely.  And therefore, approaching Him must be done in that similar spirit of perfect comradery, fellowship, and love - insofar as we are able, being imperfect humans.  Therefore, I feel it's appropriate to ask our Father questions, to be uncertain about developing that trusting relationship with Him at first.  I strongly believe that Heavenly Father would rather have us seeking after truth and righteousness in Him, while being uncertain and filled with questions, than to simply disbelieve in and discard what He has spoken concerning having a relationship with Him and His Son.  In other words, our Father would rather have us stumbling in the general right direction towards His light, shrouded in total darkness, than to just turn away because it's too difficult to follow or "not believable enough". 

All this being said, it doesn't seem right to me that our Father in Heaven would want us to just cast aside all our hidden darkness in one fell swoop.  He's not like that.  I happen to know a gentle, loving, compassionate Father-God who, although perfect in His justice, also pours out His mercy abundantly upon His beloved children.  He WANTS to understand you!  He WANTS to heal your pain!!  And He WANTS to give you answers!!!  Our Father-God is NOT some being either drowsy on His far-away throne or smiling with cruel amusement at our sufferings and confusion!  No!  He loves us, and He conscientiously, meticulously, and deeply lives so that we can return home and become like Him!!  I know that.  I have felt His love cleanse me from my hidden darkness, removing piece by piece each festering pocket of emotional pain and cleansing out those spiritually infected wounds of sin.  And that is how our Savior will work on you - piece by piece, step by step, until bit by bit those hidden darknesses have yielded to His love and light.  Being an LGBT Mormon sucks sometimes, I'll give anyone that.  And that is a horribly inadequate understatement.  It doesn't lend hardly anything to the multi-faceted, complex nature of this experience we are enduring, as children of our Father-God.  But isn't it better to take that first step towards His love?  Isn't it SO much more healing and fulfilling to relinquish that inner pride, breathe, and say, "You know, Heavenly Father, I don't really trust you all that much.  But I've seen what you've done for others, and maybe even me.  So, I'll take a chance...for You."  I testify, my friends, that our Heavenly Father and Savior are truly our Advocates and Healers.  Any pain brought by their direction is temporary in the eternal scheme of things.  Conversely, Satan cannot offer that promise, and I also testify that he WANTS you to sit in shame, self-doubt, self-pity, disbelief, discouragement, and all those other unnecessary, gross-feeling emotions and thoughts.  You have SO much greater potential than that!!!  I testify that as you turn to your Savior, Jesus Christ, He can expose your hidden darkness to His light and love, and envelop you in His embrace.  I know that is true, deep within my heart.  Until next time, my lovely readers... <3 <3 <3

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We Are All Nephi

Sometimes, LGBT+ Mormons wonder why there aren't any figures in the scriptures to relate to, why God hasn't caused the prophets and apostles to write concerning those who are of the rainbow crowd.  Occasionally I have reflected about this profound and mildly disturbing concept, only to dismiss my thoughts with the rationale, "God's truth is taught in the scriptures, and that is enough for me to make it."  While one cannot really contest the truth of that statement, it still leaves us rainbow-hearted Mormons wanting for someone spiritually iconic to relate to.  Sure, hetero men have Captain Moroni, David, Joseph Smith, Abraham, Moses.  And yeah, straight women have got Esther, Abigail, King Lamoni's wife, Abish the missionary woman, and so forth.  But, who have we got?  Could it be that there is someone?  You've already guessed from the title of my blog post who I'm going to be talking about.  But I'm sure I've got your curiosity burning as to how he is relevant to those on the LGBT+ spectrum in the LDS Church.  Let's explore that, shall we? ;)

To start, I want to break up into fragments the aspects of Nephi's life that are relevant, and how:

-  In Nephi's youth, it becomes clear very quickly upon a first reading of the Book of Mormon that Nephi doesn't get along well with his two older brothers, at all.  They constantly complain, criticize their father, and even hit him and his younger brother with a stick!  Although family conflict doesn't necessarily exist with gay guys when they're younger, I think a lot of gay guys can relate to not feeling like they belong among other men.  At least, not straight men anyway.  I'm not applying a stereotype here, of course, but rather am expressing a personal belief and observation, within my own realm of experience.  Also, part of this experience for Nephi included standing up to his brothers on multiple occasions!  How many of us gay guys have had to stand up to men around us because they were acting homophobic, ignorant, or just plain rude?  I'm raising my hand right now, I'll tell you that.  All of this can be found in 1st Nephi, by the way, for my lovely non-members who haven't read the Book of Mormon just yet.  :)

-  Nephi had to persevere through really intense trials to obtain answers to his questions, including being tied up by his brothers (twice), returning back to Jerusalem after leaving (also twice), marrying someone he possibly didn't even know beforehand, and having to exercise his faith as far as to kill someone who was standing in the way of the Lord's work!!  This prophet didn't grow up in the comfort of Jerusalem the more part of his life, nor did he enjoy the luxury of typical dating & courtship.  He did not even get the chance to deeply evaluate his beliefs before obeying a sudden prompting of the Spirit that could've turned his eternal welfare upside down.

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So, what is the application here?  Let's focus on the last two points.  In the LDS Church, some gay men choose to engage in what is called a mixed-orientation marriage.  Simply defined, this means a heterosexual person marrying someone of the opposite sex, who isn't heterosexual.  I can attest to the confusing, even scary prospect of marrying a woman - since, after all, that is what I plan to do someday.  I don't really know what I'm getting myself into, how I'm going to be sexually intimate, what it's going to be like having my own kids, etc, etc.  But I do plan on following the Spirit, "not knowing beforehand the things which I should do." (1st Nephi 4:6). I don't have to see the path laid out beneath my feet, if I have the light of the Spirit to guide me one step at a time.  That's really all I need.  On to my other point.  The Spirit not only illuminates hidden paths, but it also lights up the unexpected, faith-trying, heartwrenching kind.  Think of Abraham.  The Lord commanded him to sacrifice his only son as a test of faith, and as an obvious foreshadowing of Heavenly Father sacrificing His Only Begotten Son.  With an assuredly bleeding, torn, and broken heart, Abraham climbed the mountain.  And, just moments before the sacrifice, an angel of God prevented him from doing so.  Then, God made the Abrahamic Covenant with him, in which Abraham was promised to have posterity greater than the stars in the sky, and the sands of the sea.  He also was promised that through him, all the kindreds of the earth would be blessed.  Similarly we, as LGBT+ Mormons, can follow through with trials of our faith that momentarily brush against the pain Christ felt in Gethsemane, and what's more, are commanded by God.  I testify of this, because I have been commanded by my Heavenly Father & Savior to sacrifice things I would've never sacrificed otherwise, including my general well-being, emotional stability, and almost the entirety of my mental sanity and health.  But, I testify that by small things great things are brought to pass - in other words, through small acts of cultivating, nourishing, and strengthening our faith, we can develop the type of faith that moves mountains by moving them out of our way, or empowering us to climb over them.

There's more, though.  Nephi also opens up about his weaknesses & struggling with sin when he asked yearningly:

"O then, if I have seen so great things...why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?"  (2nd Nephi 4:27-28)  Nephi wrestled with anger management, depression, apathy, and possibly lust!  But we know of the magnificent, sacred experiences Nephi had as well.  Even prophets have bad days with the gospel, and struggle to understand why they are struggling!!  Doesn't that sound familiar?  "Why am I gay?", "Why won't God heal me of this affliction?", "How is it possible that I am slipping up with porn/being immoral/being lustful, after feeling the Spirit like that just a few hours/days/weeks ago?" are questions I am certain we have all wrestled with at some point or another, on the LGBT+ spectrum.  But this doesn't mean the gospel isn't true, or that you should just quit because you supposedly cannot progress or find a way to be you and Mormon at the same time.  This passage also illustrates the truth that it is 100% OKAY AND NORMAL to have sins, weaknesses, unanswered questions, and more!!!  Every LDS member has them, and they're lying if they say they don't, especially with unanswered questions!

I testify that we are all Nephi.  We all have to wade through adversity to find the love of God and the peace of God, at some point or another.  We all wonder why we feel the Spirit one day, and then slip back into old habits of weakness & sin or old, unyielding feelings of depression and apathy the next.  It's not new to the mortal experience for this to happen to anyone.  It's not unusual to feel anger towards God, or a lack of desire to be charitable, or an overpowering urge to ask out, make out with, or have sex with that one special/unique individual you met not too long ago - maybe just barely!  But my point in composing this blog post today isn't to make a bunch of reassurances.  My purpose here is to point out that your desires, your feelings, and even your actions are NOT what define you!  The Atonement of Jesus Christ makes our spiritual state today a temporary one, and thank goodness for that.  For it is through His grace, mercy, and fierce love for us that we can fall down in the stupidest and most treacherous ways possible, but still choose to genuinely apologize and obtain forgiveness.  I testify that Jesus Christ is the Perfect Master of Infinite Chances.  He loves you SO much!!!  Take advantage of that Atonement for grace to get through the next hour, the next day, and soon the next month and then year.  He will not fail you.  I know this, with all my heart and soul.  Until next time, my lovelies.... :) <3


Selecting Our Humanity

It's a curious thing, sexuality and religion.  You think you have your path figured out, and then whoosh! Someone sweeps out the rug from underneath your feet.  Our perceptions change, and so does the direction of our path in direct proportion to that.  Your world view is what determines where your feet take you - at least to some reasonably imaginable extent.  I view these changes, subtle to mundane to significant as they are, to be beautifully integral to our human experience.  Life isn't life without some sort of change.  After all, it is what we thrive on.  I wish to explore a sort of deviation from these natural ups and downs, these shifts in personal opinion.  It arises from a place I believe to be almost wholly governed by emotion, rather than being wisely guided by the voice of reason.  This blip outside the boundaries of our everyday battles not only causes needless pain, it also hinders the spiritual development of all who create it for themselves.

To get to the point, I speak regarding those who are journeying with the Lord in the gospel, while identifying somewhere in the LGBT spectrum.  At some point, whether it's due to stress, chronic issues with doubt, or whatever else, these individuals seek some kind of escape from their journey. Because of personal convictions, usually, they try to justify sinful or at least erroneous behavior that does not conform with the Lord's standards.  Before moving forward in my narrative, though, I wish to offer a sort of disclaimer.  Being a gay Mormon man myself, I greatly empathize with the pain and suffering this journey can draw into someone's life, like some kind of toxic magnet.  Such decisions to transgress or act foolishly do not come about quickly, and are not made lightly.  It's beyond agonizing for those who choose to do so.  That being said, let's move on.

I was discussing the fact that these individuals are searching for an escape, and understandably so. Who wouldn't, honestly?  In attempting to prevent spiritual compromise that could prove fatal to their testimonies, these people want to experience both, since they believe both are essential to their happiness.  I have found in my own experience, however, that it's not really about the form the happiness comes in - though it can definitely seem that way!  Rather, it's what the "form" is offering to you.  For example, let's hypothetically say I don't want to compromise on my devotion to Christ in the gospel, but I also do not want to feel lonely, separated from my sexuality, emotionally unfulfilled, and so on.  So instead, I continue my involvement in the Church and also find myself a boyfriend.  Or perhaps I decide to find a man purely to make out with.  I'm sure I could offer a number of scenarios, but you get the idea.  The point is to find someone I can share some level of intimacy and companionship with.  It eases the mental, emotional, sexual, or other yearning I feel, created by my own choice to be abstinent in the name of discipleship to Christ.  It fills the void, simply put.

And yet, I observe these lifestyles and I wonder to myself, "Isn't there another way that the Lord could still be pleased with?  Surely He never intended for us to be alone and emotionally unfulfilled..."  I love to believe Christ when He promised us, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John 14:18)  I also love to believe Moses the prophet when he testified, "And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed." (Deuteronomy 31:8)  As the Protestants say, God is good!  He is not ever going to leave us alone, in the dark, or even confused indefinitely.  Nor will He refuse to give grace to anyone who seeks it, for cleansing from sin, emotional strength, mental clarity, spiritual guidance, and a million other righteous causes!  Our Heavenly Father loves us, and has promised us that we can turn to Him, to "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."  I love that it doesn't just say "come unto", but rather declares that we can come boldly to God's throne of grace!  We can ask for things that may seem like bold requests, but God not only welcomes us to,  He actually commands it!

In the turbulent whirlwind of inner conflict, faith crisis, depression, anxiety, and worse, what can be done, though?  Is it REALLY as simple as praying to Heavenly Father and asking for help?  I would submit that it is.  Some would question whether it's "God's will" for you to be surrounded by those who truly validate and get you, to which I quote this scripture:

"He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh."  - Doctrine & Covenants 46:30

Others might then counter this with, "Well, I don't really know how the Spirit feels, or how its workings are in my own spiritual life."  I would cordially reply back for them to study Galatians 5:22-25, which admittedly does not tell you what the workings of the Spirit are specifically for you, but it does give you a very plain, straightforward way of discerning what those workings are in your own spiritual life.  Essentially, the whole spirit of this hypothetical dialogue is, "Seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7)  Part of finding answers to really, really tough questions like this is seeking until you feel like you can seek no longer for those answers - then, through the grace of God, continuing to seek more until you do.  Discipleship to Jesus Christ isn't something you just walk away from when it gets excruciatingly painful - indeed, this is the moment when true disciples of Christ prove themselves on the battlefield, so to speak, by girding up their loins and pushing forward into the battle.  At least, that is what the scriptures would say if you cared to give a quick little look. ;)

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Bringing this full circle then, we all understand reading this that the battle is appealing to our body or our spirit, one of which is temporary and the other, eternal.  The body clamors for romance, physical affection, sex, marital commitment, and so forth.  The spirit urges, pleads, and even strongly argues for the spirit to take dominance over the situation, promising that everything will "work out".  And sometimes, we doubt that.  It's almost impossible to believe, not only because the proof is woefully lacking but also because our life experience has shown us the opposite is true.  I think we also harbor a hindering attitude about it all, a black-and-white sort of thinking that says either we must be largely/completely unified with our spirits, or give in to our bodies by default.  This is false.  It is a lie that I believe Satan at least partially perpetuates among us, to sow discord, discouragement, disbelief, and doubt.  Regardless of our circumstances, challenges, or whatever, none of us will ever reach a point where spirit and body unification becomes a total reality.  Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we know it is possible to "put off the natural man" and "(become) a saint through the Atonement of Christ", as King Benjamin taught in Mosiah 3:19.  This creates a state of sanctification (purity through the Spirit), and justification (state of being "not guilty" before God's justice). Knowing that such a spiritual state is possible, then, let's move on to the real solution to the conflict of giving in to the body vs. being changed by the Savior in our hearts.

Speaking from a gay Mormon male perspective, I can tell you immediately there are certain things I need for my relationship with Jesus Christ.  To start, I need friendships with men - particularly emotionally close friendships.  This need arises from my choice to be chaste and to abstain from romantic involvement with men.  It leaves a void in my mind and heart that only emotional intimacy can fill, since I've excluded sexual and romantic intimacy.  I also need platonic physical affection in these friendships wherever possible, since I have chosen not to be physically affection in any other way with men.  Also in terms of relationships, they absolutely must be healthy - no drama, negativity, toxicity, etc.  It's about good boundaries, great times, lots of laughter, and all that good stuff. :) Finally, I have to constantly cultivate a beautifully intimate relationship with my Elder Brother and Savior, Jesus Christ.  All of these are still in process, still aspects of my life I work on every single day.  I won't deny that there are days when I want to throw in the towel, apologize to God, and start living a worldly, openly gay lifestyle.  Why?  Because it feels exasperating beyond anything I have ever felt and honestly heartwrenching on those days.  It feels unfair, jaded, twisted, confusing, faith-draining, resentment-towards-God-building, and worse besides.  I question my Heavenly Father's and Savior's love for me as a child of God, due to these feelings.

But, I can testify that my Heavenly Father and my Savior are the only reason why I currently stand in the blessed circumstances I do.  It is because of their love and grace that I currently enjoy platonic physical affection and emotional intimacy with men in abundance.  It is because of their love and grace that I presently experience a beautifully intimate relationship with both of them, and wonderfully healthy relationships with others.  And, they bless my relationships with all that good stuff I mentioned, also in abundance.  Although, as shown, we can ask for anything in the Spirit and it be given to us since it is God's will, that doesn't usually mean it's immediate.  Or at all easy.  In fact, to deepen our faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ, I strongly believe that Heavenly Father permits our prayers to go unanswered for as long as several years.  It tears us apart inside, but ultimately builds us up to a higher spiritual level of conversion and depth of testimony.

These unanswered prayers for what we need to be faithful to Christ - be it platonic physical touch, intimate friendships, or whatever - are not God giving us the cold shoulder or somehow not understanding that we have needs.  As Christ taught, "...your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."  Oftentimes, things also have to fall into place before your Father will give you what you ask for.  He's trying to create the best possible timing so you can enjoy the blessing the very most! :)  I had to work for probably 5-6 years after realizing I was gay, in order to establish (through God's grace, of course) a workable, emotionally fulfilling lifestyle.  These things don't come easily, my friends - you have to work for them.  But before you assume it's a backbreaking process that isn't worth it, I can also testify truthfully to you that my Savior has supported me every step of the way - especially at its most heartbreaking times.  I also testify that if you ask in prayer for grace to make it through this process of putting a Christ-centered, emotionally fulfilling life together, the Lord will support you until you get there.  And as you wait, I further testify that angels are real, that your family can be an amazing support to get you through, and that you don't have to wait for happiness to attend you.  While cultivating this beautiful life that is messy and imperfect at times, you can indeed create a state of spiritual joy that will see you through.  I testify with all my heart and soul that it is possible for you to have a close relationship with Christ while also feeling purposeful and fulfilled in your sexuality.  Until next time, my dear readers...


Fashioning Our Own Gay Culture

For those of us who have stuck with the Church despite our grumblings, pains, and dare I say, persecutions, I think it has become evident to us what basic things get in our way.  It could be something like that hot person in your class at school, or maybe it's your struggle with pornography, the lack of support from priesthood leaders, friends, etc...the list goes on and on.  For me personally, one of my greatest pitfalls isn't necessarily something tangible.  It's more of an intangible, abstract thing.  When I am surrounded by LGBT people who do not share my values, for some reason I find it difficult to resist the temptation to do things our Heavenly Father has lovingly asked us to not do.  It's harder to not make inappropriate jokes, discuss risque topics, or even (in times now passed) to resist sensual physical touch.  We all know that in the Church, we deny ourselves of basic emotional needs that center around feeling loved and wanted - whether in a sexual manner or an emotional manner. Or both.  Therefore, we find ways to fill that void to the best of our abilities as Church members.  But, there are times when we aren't necessarily getting a constant stream of physical affection, quality time, or whatever our primary love languages might happen to be.  This leaves susceptibility to giving into our bodily passions and desires, at least to some degree anyway.  Returning back to my example for me personally, then, I definitely can see that every single time I allowed myself to act on my sexuality in ways contrary to the Savior's teachings, I wasn't taking care of myself somehow. That being said, I certainly do not believe in relying on my male friends for emotional fulfillment.  They can only help so much to fill the void left by my choice to be abstinent from sex and romance. But, I most definitely believe in finding my fulfillment by combining male emotional intimacy in friendship with a number of other simple, practical measures.  Still... the question remains, how do I push back against the alluring nature of gay culture & peer pressure?

I'm not going to quote a bunch of scriptures or tell you something a handful of prophets and apostles said, just to start.  If you're reading my blog, chances are you know the scriptures about keeping your mind clean, resisting temptation, avoiding Satan's pitfalls, and so on.  I don't doubt that in the slightest, actually.  Therefore, I want to give a more personable approach that has worked for me personally.  Some people require different degrees of what I'm about to share, or even another ingredient to the formula I'm not going to list here.  But, as long as your personal formula works within the teachings of Christ, that really is all that matters.  Anyway, let me share my personal approach here now:

- Let's say I'm at some kind of event where LGBT people are mingling pretty significantly.  I might see a LOT of attractive men, and it will be sexually arousing for me if I do not stop myself.  Most LDS people will tell you to avoid those men like the plague, even to the point of not looking in their direction.  This is a load of crap.  Don't believe it.  You see, if you develop an infatuation with someone regardless of where you are, it is because you're focusing almost entirely on their beautiful face...maybe even their hot body, depending on where you are.  I'm speaking bluntly like this for my benefit and yours.  So, what do you do?  TALK TO HIM/HER.  Why??!  That's what I would've asked a few years back or so.  The reason is so that you can get to know them as a child of God, and make them more human to you.  It'll also teach you how to generally interact with them in a way that you would with everyone else, since you don't want to come across as creepy or weird.  Lol.

*Teaching:  Ride the wave of your sexual, emotional, and whatever other kind of attractions you feel for the same sex, or maybe the opposite sex in the case of my transgender friends reading this.  DON'T RESIST. Doing that ingrains into your mind that your attraction is shameful and deserves to be hidden.  Don't let shame in!  Embrace this beautiful part of you, and give it freedom of expression in a wholesome way.

- Another example could be when you're with some LGBT friends.  Doesn't matter if they're Mormon or not; I've seen it happen with both.  The conversation wanders into some topic(s) that you know aren't appropriate, and will drive away the Spirit pretty quickly.  My approach is this:  Buck up and have some courage to remind everyone of what you all believe, if it's a mostly or entirely Mormon group.  If you can't do that, just remain quiet and focus on your phone or something, or whatever else you can in your environment.  If encouraged to join, lovingly tell them that you'd rather stay out of the conversation.  For non-members, I personally just leave if I can.  If I can't, I stay quiet and let them have their "fun".  It shouldn't become a silent judging fest, where you think about how righteous you are compared to them, or contemplate about their lack of respect for you as a Mormon. No, it shouldn't be any of those things, or anything similar.  Just peacefully retreat into yourself, and find a way to maintain that tranquility of mind and spirit - be it through meditation, listening to music, or whatever else.  It's possible to disagree with someone without becoming disagreeable. :)

*Teaching:  Find your way that works for you of avoiding not just inappropriate conversation, but really any kind of negative peer pressure.  You can politely turn down invitations and/or pressure to go to gay clubs, gay bars, or even Pride itself.  I did this year, with Pride.  And it wasn't me being all high and mighty, rude, or condescending about my choice.  I simply said to people, "That's not really my scene.  It contradicts what I believe and strive to live by."  That doesn't mean I handle every situation with grace and tactfulness. Far from it.  I've said some pretty insensitive, tactless, and stupid things to friends of mine, which I had to apologize for later.  The point, though, is to do what you can. Do your best, and forget the rest.  Though it may seem over simplified what I've offered here, these 2 tools have helped me out tremendously as I have tried to live as Christ would have me live.  I bear my witness that Jesus Christ loves you as His son or daughter, and if you rest on that Love and His Grace, you will be blessed to endure to the end with joyfulness, peace, a sense of emotional fulfillment, and a sense of personal accomplishment.


The Anger vs. Mercy of our Father-God

I am certain God rarely gets angry with us.  And not only that, I am thoroughly convinced that we are entirely deluded about actions of ours that supposedly "for sure" cause God - from our perspective - to be disappointed in, annoyed with, less disposed to love towards, or otherwise un-Godish to us. Where does this attitude originate from, I wonder, that our Father-God could somehow feel these emotions about and/or toward us, much less the more obviously false ones, such as hatred, shame, disgust, and the like?  It is intent to expose the flawed and doctrinally unsound foundation these feelings rest upon, to really dig into the muck and slime of these unhealthy, degrading beliefs & thoughts about our Heavenly Father.  Without, of course, going into intricate and complex explanations that will get us nowhere or hardly anywhere, at the least.  Furthermore, it is my aim, through this exposition, to enlighten my readers and empower them in their spiritual journey with their sexual orientation, be it of whatever kind.  

Let me begin, I think, by sharing a couple of short & simple scriptural verses.  They are:

-  2nd Nephi 23:3, which declares, "for mine anger is not upon them that rejoice in my highness."

-  D&C 59:21, which says, "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments."

To expand correct interpretation here, let's clarify a few things.  First, rejoicing in God's highness, or glory, doesn't mean you're constantly or even frequently making verbal or otherwise grandiose expressions of praise and thanksgiving to God.  A life lived quietly in honest seeking of God's truth and overall virtue, through discipleship to Jesus Christ, is quite sufficient to meet this requirement.  More than anything, one who strives to pattern his life after the teachings of Christ glorifies God.  As we see from the ministry of Christ and elsewhere in the scriptures, what counts most to our Heavenly Father isn't what we say or feel or think - it's what we do.  This is true of positive or negative words, feelings, and acts.  Second, it says His anger is not "upon" those who rejoice in His highness, meaning that it is not a lingering and/or frequent occurrence.  This doesn't exclude you or I from God being occasionally or even sometimes displeased with how we use our moral agency.  It does, however, mean that we need not fear that God is looking over our shoulders in anger at any portion of our lives (see Psalms 103:9)

Third, in the scripture from D&C we read that we do not offend God in anything, or cause His wrath to be kindled against us, unless we confess not His hand in all things.  Again, this isn't speaking to some grandiose declaration of God's power in our lives and everywhere else.  If you and I strive to have a humble heart, and we acknowledge where all good things flow from, that is the acknowledgement of God's hand in all things that He desires of us.  The spirit behind this truth is humility - do I, within my spirit, say, "Well, God does some things that make my life better, but not everything", or do I humbly admit, "My Father-God has given me SO many blessings.  All good in my life is because of Him."  Hence we read in 1st Peter 5:5, "for God resisteth (the Greek translation of this word means, "opposes, is adverse to") the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."  Those of us who strive to yield to the Spirit, which I would call the spirit of humility, are more able and willing to receive God's blessings.  This is not only because they are more worthy and in a preparation for them, but also because yielding to this spirit of acknowledgement of God's hands creates a relationship with Him to where He Himself is more able to bless us.  This hearkens back to D&C 82:10, which teaches us, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise."  So, in summation, this part of D&C 59:21 is saying to us, "Look, unless you have a spirit of humility and acknowledgement of Heavenly Father's hand in all things in your life, eventually He will be offended at you and His wrath will be kindled against you."  Thankfully, it takes a REALLY long time for God to get angry with any of us, even the rebellious and unrighteous.  Apostate Israel of old and the Nephites provide excellent examples of this (see Psalms 103:8, 145:8).

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As a fourth and final clarification, it says we don't offend God or cause His anger to be kindled against us unless we "obey not His commandments".  However, I think it is VERY important here to distinguish between faithfulness and obedience.  Drawing upon Merriam-Webster, since it would include definitions from back in the times of Joseph Smith when D&C was written, here are definitions of "faithful" and "obedient":

-  faithful (adj.):  firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty
-  obedient (adj): submissive to the restraint or command of authority

Interesting, isn't it, how they seem so similar in meaning, almost to the point of being identical?  But, if you look closely, there is an important difference between the two.  The first indicates a self-initiated process of doing what one has promised, or in accordance with personal duty.  It uses the word "firm", but not "unwavering", "perfect", "unchanged", or any like adjective.  In its context, the word "firm" here means one not easily moved or disturbed in his course, also penned down in synonymous meaning as "steadfast" in the holy scriptures.  Now, examining the second definition, we find an almost robotic, mindless devotion to some overseer or taskmaster in authority.  At best, it is a humble surrender to a higher power or authority than the self, yielding all self-interest and self-related power so as to render the individual or being as under the total control of said higher authority.  Thankfully, I think you'll find we mean the latter definition in the gospel when we speak so loftily of being "obedient".  

So, what's the point of all this intellectual banter about definitions and proper interpretations then?  Is it just a bunch of hot air, then?  No, it isn't. ;)  Let me explain, dear reader.  You see, the stipulation here for God being offended and angry with you and I isn't an absence of unwavering, unflinching, perfect obedience.  No...that's preposterous.  It uses the phrase "obey not", meaning that instead of humbly surrendering to God's power and authority over us as our Father, we consciously choose a way of thinking and feeling that takes us away from that spirit of humble surrender.  "Obey not" means to proudly resist God, disobeying His constituted priesthood leaders, your parents - who have stewardship over you - and the scriptures themselves, simply because you choose to, not because you slip due to a moment of weakness or the natural man/woman. It is, in essence, the persistent spirit of pride & subsequent rebellion that earns us God's offense and anger.  This is wholly different than our weakness due to the flesh, which God understands (see Isaiah 57:16, Psalms 78:39).

To talk of truth, then, I testify that our Father-God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, are SO anxious, ready, and willing to show us more mercy than we ever would say we deserve.  And this is because they love us in a practically infinite amount of ways, through an individual and intimate touch. They hear us, they know us, they love us.  We are their children!  We are sons and daughter of the living God, and as such I can hardly imagine Heavenly Parents or a Savior who would be anything but slow to anger and offended feelings with us!!  Just to give a small glimpse into the feeling and spirit of what I am saying here, the scriptures call God's mercy, "abundant", "rich", "tender", "plentiful", "plenteous", "great", "multitudinous", "infinite", and more that I'm sure I couldn't find.  How can this not convince the human heart that because we are His, He wants to give us a break, to heal us, to comfort us...to bring us home?  It is His entire work and glory to bring us home, to cause us to inherit exaltation through our efforts and total reliance on His grace!  I testify that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be whole again, and we can feel of His perfect love and mercy, to abandon and banish ANY thought that God is anything but pleased with us, and cheering us on with the aid of more spiritual resources beyond the veil than we previously have ever supposed.  I testify of God's perfect love for us as His beloved children, and that any thoughts which distract from that love or diminish it DO NOT come from Him!!!  I love you, dear readers.  Until next time...