Friday, January 26, 2018

Hold to the Iron Rod

In Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi 8, there is an iron rod along a strait and narrow path that leads to the tree of life. Along the path there is a river, and on the other side of the river there is a great and spacious building. The iron rod is enshrouded in a mist of darkness. Lehi sees individuals who lose their way in the mist of darkness. Some of them drown in the river, and some of them make it to the great and spacious building. Others, who hold tight to the iron rod, make it through the mist of darkness and reach the tree of life. Those in the great and spacious building point fingers and mock and scorn those partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. Some who have partaken of the fruit feel ashamed due to the mocking and scorn, and fall away and are lost. 

Lehi's Dream, by Greg Olsen

Just yesterday, a prominent voice in the gay Mormon community announced a significant change in their life and testimony. This individual was in a mixed-orientation marriage (meaning a marriage where spouses have different sexual orientations, such as a gay man married to a straight woman) that they decided to end. This normally wouldn't be much of an issue to me, aside from feeling genuinely sorry for them and those that their decision will affect. However, in the process of them announcing their decision for divorce, they also made very generalized and erroneous claims, and accused the church's stance on LGBT issues of literally killing people. 
In their post, they claimed that because their marriage failed, all other mixed-orientation marriages were doomed to fail. That’s simply a logical fallacy. It would be like me claiming that, as a native English speaker, because I failed a Spanish class in high school, that everyone else who is a native English speaker will also fail that same class. I feel this claim is particularly assumptive as I know people within the gay Mormon community who have happy and loving mixed-orientation marriages. I also feel it’s dangerous and unnecessarily damaging to potential marriages in the future. For example, while I don’t currently see marriage being an option for me, if one day I honestly fall in love with a woman and want to marry, if she were to do a Google search about marrying a gay Mormon man, and she happened upon that post, would she reconsider or have serious doubts that would change her mind about potentially marrying me?
The individual who wrote the post has a very large following, and is well-known and quite influential. For this reason, I honestly fear for those who may be negatively affected or led astray due to this individual’s choice and decision to turn against the church. And it’s not just those who are LGBT members of the church. I have already seen others who have been influenced and swayed by this post, and by other factors. Members who I wish were my allies, who I wish supported me and believed the doctrines of the church they are members of, turning against the church because of the scorn and mocking from the great and spacious building.
It seems that when someone falls away from the iron rod, they have a good chance of taking others down with them. Especially when this is someone with influence and a large following. It makes it particularly damaging and confusing when they pull others away in the confusion of large issues such as LGBT matters. There are so many opposing voices on this topic, so many black and whites, so many shades of grey, that it can honestly be hard sometimes to decipher what is true and what is not. And that’s part of what makes this such a powerful topic, both for good and evil. I have found incredible strength in my testimony by pushing through the difficulties that come along with being a faithful member of the church while also being attracted to the same sex. And there are definitely difficulties. And then there are others who have been lost in the mists of darkness due to the complexities and difficulties surrounding this issue.
I will be honest, sometimes it is difficult to not occasionally feel ashamed or confused when the voices from the great and spacious building are so loud and disparaging. Sometimes I do wonder if it would be easier or better to just go join the masses. But then I remember why I’m here. Why I keep going. Why I am pushing forward despite the difficulty and pain that I go through. I keep going because I have a testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel. I’m here because I have worth that I can’t comprehend, and potential that I can’t currently realize. I’m pushing forward because I have a brother who loved me enough to pay for my sins, and die for me that I can live again. I’m here because I have a Heavenly Father who created this world, and put forth a plan wherein I can return to be with Him and with those that I love for eternity. I’m going on because God is loving, God is just, and God is merciful.
Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can honestly be incredibly difficult sometimes. I get lost in the complexities of life, and recently I’ve been realizing that it can be really good to return to the small and simple things. There’s a song that I like called “I Wanna Go Back” by David Dunn that has really touched me recently. Part of the lyrics are “I wanna go back to Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so. I wanna go back to this little light gonna let it shine. I wanna go back.” I have been so lost in some of the complexities that I’ve been forgetting some of the simple things. Forgetting that Jesus loves me, forgetting to pray and read the scriptures, forgetting why I have a testimony. But recently I’ve been going back. Going back to believing that Jesus loves me, and there is a plan for me. And that’s what matters.
            If you’re holding on to the iron rod, don’t let go. Those in the great and spacious building will continue to scoff, mock, and scorn. Difficulties will arise, things will be tough. But hold on. I believe that Jesus loves me. I believe that I have a place in the gospel. I believe that I can live a full life following the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I believe that God’s plan is possible for all of His children, that He loves all of them, and that there is a way back through Christ’s atonement. And I will keep holding to the iron rod and I'll press forward with faith.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Falling In Love

     I was asked this week to give a talk in church about having Christ as a constant companion, and throughout the week I brainstormed ideas and wrote my talk. What I actually said and what I wrote differed a little, but I figured I'd post the written version of my talk here on my blog:

For me, falling in love, not just love for a family member or a friend, but really falling in love with someone is one of the most powerful, overwhelming, and intoxicating feelings I’ve ever experienced. Falling in love has been so joyous and yet so painful, so safe and yet so dangerous.
I’ve only really fallen in love with 6 individuals throughout my life thus far. I’ve had many crushes on guys, and rarely girls, where I think wow, he’s really cute, or really nice, or really spiritual. But I’ve only really fallen in love 6 times, to different degrees.
Of the 6 people I’ve fallen for, 2 of them ever fell for me, too. And both of those relationships ended because eventually lines were crossed and mistakes were made. The relationships ended because it wasn’t a safe environment for me or them, and it wasn’t bringing us closer to God.
Of the remaining 4 relationships, those being the ones that didn’t fall in love in return, 1 died out simply because of distance. He moved away, and we didn’t really have a means of contact, so the relationship ended quite suddenly, and falling out of love with him followed soon after.
1 of the more painful endings for me was a friend I fell for before I really even knew I was gay, and definitely before I knew that what I was feeling was being in love with him. He was straight, and I had put a lot of work into building our friendship. But I guess I came on too strong, and even though I didn’t even know at the time that what I was feeling was love, I made him uncomfortable, and eventually he cut contact with me for that.
The last 2 relationships are ones I still have today. 1 of them, and actually the only 1 on this list that’s a girl, was someone I fell in love with over time. We were friends and eventually best friends throughout our childhood. And somewhere along the way, as I got older, I fell for her. But for reasons that I’m not even aware of, the being “in love” just very slowly died out. Despite that, her and I are still in contact, and I still consider her one of my best friends.
The final relationship I have to talk about was someone that I fell intensely for. Out of all of the relationships, this was the strongest for me. So strong in fact that I put him on a pedestal, and created this false belief in my infatuation that he was a perfect being. I was so entranced that I made him into something that he wasn’t. And it wasn’t fair to me or him.  After years of believing he was perfect, reality finally hit me. I realized that I had fallen for him so deeply that he had essentially become my deity. I turned to him when I had gospel questions, and not God. I talked to him far more than I talked to God. That’s not to say that he was a bad influence on me, because he wasn’t and hasn’t been. He has actually been a great influence who honestly has saved my testimony and even life on multiple occasions. But the bad influence for me was my own choice to leave God behind in favor of someone who, while an honestly fantastic human being and fantastic friend, isn’t and can’t be perfect as a mortal. I’ve just now been coming to the realization the past couple weeks that if I want our friendship to continue and be healthy and beneficial for the both of us, I need to find ways to put God first.
There are a few reasons why I bring these situations up. One of them is that I feel that some of those can be related to my relationship with God. Like the first 2 relationships, when I have committed sin, I have pushed myself away from God and lost some of the deeper contact I had before the mistake. Like the relationship that died out simply because of distance, there have been multiple times where my relationship with God suffered simply because I didn’t put myself in situations where I was close to him. Like the relationship that I slowly fell in love with, and slowly out of love with, my relationship with God has gone up and down. Sometimes God has seemed like just an acquaintance, other times a friend, and other times a best friend. And there have been a few times in my life where I had put God at the forefront of my time and attention like the last relationship I mentioned. Where I treated Him like the perfect being that He is. And treated him like my God.
The other, is that I’ve realized that when I fall for someone, they often become the most important person to me, and get first priority in many ways. If I want to text someone, I’ll text them first. If I want to call someone, I call them first. If I want to spend time with someone, I spend time with them first, etc. I often also try to be like them, or at least try to like the things that they like. For example, I used to say my favorite animal was horses simply because I knew that my best friend who I was in love with said horses were her favorite animal.
But really the reason I bring this up is that I’m starting to realize how great it would be if I could fall in love with God. Because if I could fall in love with God, He could be the first one I text. He could be the first one I call. He could be the first one I spend time with. And He could be the first one I follow. If God loves people, then I can try to as well. If God’s favorite animal is a giraffe, I can try to make that my favorite animal, too. That’s not to say that I want to lose my uniqueness, nor do I think that’s what God wants me to do. But I want to find a way to fall in love with God, to honestly and deeply fall in love with God, so that I can follow Him more deeply and with more conviction and with more surety.
God is perfect. Unlike some of the other relationships that ended in painful ways, God would not cut off the relationship with me. Only I can do that. Unlike the relationships where I put my trust in someone who may honestly be a fantastic person who can help me immensely, but is ultimately mortal and imperfect, God is not. God is immortal and perfect. If I can truly fall in love with God, maybe I won’t need to worry about pleasing others or trying to be in love.
But how can I fall in love with God? Honestly, I don’t completely know. It seems difficult for me because my two main love languages are physical touch and quality time. And I don’t think it’s possible for God to physically touch me, at least in the way I comprehend physical touch, while I’m a mortal. And I’m not sure how quality time works since I can't really hand God a controller and have Him play Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart with me. But some of the ideas that I have had are that I can talk with Him. Like I call my best friend at least once a day, I can learn to talk to God at least once a day. Like I mimicked my friends favorite animal, perhaps I can learn to implement God’s favorite things and things that God loves into my life. I can spend time to get to know God. After-all I’ve never fallen for someone I didn’t know. And God has scriptures, conference talks, and prayer available to get to know Him. I can come to church to learn of Him, and to share of what I have learned. There are many good things that I can do to get to know God. I just need to do them.
In reality, I don’t know how or when I will fall in love with God. It could be a month, a year, or maybe a lifetime. But I really feel that if I want to live a life with Christ as my constant companion, I need to have Him be my number one. And I need to trust and know that He loves me no matter what, and that He is perfect, and would not hurt me or lead me astray. I can't fully control who I fall in love with, but if God really is perfect, what isn't there to fall for?