Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Single Life

This season, almost my entire family was able to come together for Christmas.  My oldest brother and his wife and son weren't there, but everyone else was and it was the most people we've had together in about five years, so it was a rare treat.  There were big kids, little kids, and fun older siblings to make Christmas much more exciting and lively than it would be if it were just me and the 'rents, awesome as they are.

Anyway, all of my siblings are married and have been for a few years.  Now, even if I weren't the GMP, I'm still not old enough to be married, in my opinion, so I've never had a problem with being single.  I enjoy the freedom and ability to do whatever, whenever.  I like not having to ask permission (even though I think most of my brothers and sisters only ask permission out of politeness, not necessity), not having to go to bed when someone else gets tired, etc. Occasional loneliness aside, it's a decent life.

In any case, this family gathering was the first one where I felt the difference between me and them.  My mom always gives the married kids a book on a gospel topic so that they can build their libraries, and while I know she never means to leave me out, I kind of feel a little jealous when everyone else gets a book my mom enjoyed and found value in.  I know the justification is that I can just as easily read my mom's copy as anything else, but it still makes me feel ever-so-slightly like an outcast. 

It happened again when we all went skiing.  My brother and his wife were curled up in the lodge sipping chocolate, my sister and her husband were shredding down the slopes, and my other brother and his wife were enjoying some cross-country skiing, leaving me the choice to either do my own thing or third-wheel it with someone else.  And it happened again whilst playing Just Dance, when each of the couples did a dance together, again leaving me high and dry.

No one ever left me out or excluded me and we did plenty of things as a family throughout the week, including everyone in our adventures.  It was a great week.  But there were moments of loneliness and pining for a different life situation, one in which it'd be easier to find the perfect mate to add to our already-exciting family group.

That feeling has been coming on more and more recently.  The other noteworthy example was attending my friend's wedding, the same friend who I feel could have been the pretty girl to break this beast's spell.  All week leading up to the wedding, I hoped she'd "come to her senses" and jilt him, giving me a second chance at a normal life. And then I saw them at their wedding reception.  They danced, they kissed, they smiled that smile that says that they each had just made the best decision of their life.  I knew I wasn't the one for her, he was.  It was (and is) a hard truth to try and live with, that those rare enchanting girls were never meant to be mine. And so it is I wake up alone each day, listening to schmaltzy love songs that have me wishing I could "feel your heartbeat through my shirt," and "taste your lips and feel your skin." 

Life is great.  I love (almost) every minute of it.  Things are getting progressively easier and all is well. But as much as I love falling in love with myself, I certainly wouldn't say no if the right person came into my life.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Story

Merry Christmas to the blogosphere!

Last week, a girl I home teach and I sat down, shot the breeze for a little while, shared our holiday plans and current activities, and made our way to the lesson.  It was my turn to teach, so I decided to share a Christmas story.  I'll share it here as well.

Wallace Purling was in the second grade, but he should have been in the fourth.  He was big and clumsy, but was liked by all of the children in his class, who were much smaller than he was.  He had a kind heart, quick to come to the defense of anyone who he felt was being mistreated, and so gained the respect of everyone who knew him, even the boys who'd try their best to hide their frustration whenever slow, dim-witted Wally tried to play ball with them.

Christmas was getting close. The teacher had been preparing the class for the Christmas pageant since all the way back in October.  Wally wanted to be a shepherd so he could hear the angels bring their glad tidings and invite him to visit and bear testimony of the baby Jesus, but the teacher thought that having that many directions on stage would be difficult for Wally.  She reasoned that being the innkeeper would be a much better job for him.  After all, the innkeeper only had two lines to learn, and Wally's size would make him much more intimidating and convincing as a callous innkeeper than a meek shepherd. Wally was disappointed, but took his part with a willing heart and set about learning his lines immediately.

Well, the night of the pageant came.  The whole town showed up to see the children portray the night of our Savior's birth.  Little Joseph and Mary wandered about, searching for a place to rest for the night.  Tender Joseph walked up to the inn's door.  Wally flung open the door with a brusque gesture.  "What do you want?" he demanded.

"Please, sir," the little boy pleaded, "my wife Mary is with child and needs a place to sleep tonight."

Wally stood in the door, silent.  The audience began to feel awkward as they watched him, thinking he'd forgotten his lines.  Tears filled his eyes.  Somewhere offstage, the teacher whispered, "No, be gone. There is no room for you here," hoping to prompt Wally on.

With a choking voice, Wally repeated the line.  Joseph hung his head and turned to walk back to Mary. Wally should have walked back into the inn and closed the door, but stood and watched the forlorn mother and her husband with concern, great big tears rolling down his cheeks and a horribly depressed look on his face.  And then this pageant became different from every other.

With tears still filling his eyes he called, "Joseph, wait!  Come back! Bring Mary!"  And then, with a bright smile he said, "You can have my room."

Some in the town thought that Wally had managed to ruin the show, but most think that it was the most Christmas of any pageant ever.

As I told this story, my eyes too filled with tears and my voice broke.  I realized how important and amazing all of my Christmas chores were.  In the challenge of finding the perfect gifts for my family, making time for those in my life whom I love, and completing those necessary tasks I had, I'd lost the spirit that Wally showed.  I had no room in my heart for loving those I was serving, and so had no room for the Savior.  I came away with a new hope for my Christmas.  I wanted to give and get good gifts and I wanted to find the perfect tree for my family and I wanted to party with my friends, but the motivation was much more people-based.  My friends and family were no longer items on my checklist, but people I genuinely loved and wanted to see happy. And, as awesome as the first half of December was, the second half has been much, much better for it.

Merry Christmas.  I love those of you I know and I want to know those of you I don't know, so I can start loving you too.  Because God loves you.  Jesus Christ loves you.  Our Savior lives.  He was born to show us the way back to our Heavenly Father and through the grace of His Atonement, we are saved.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Coat: A Story of Charity

Yep. It's definitely that time of year, when every Christmas story makes me tear up a little bit. Hope the message shows through the cute animation.

A Balance Between Responsible and Fun

Pardon the deviation, but I had kind of a micro-epiphany last night during my prayers.

Lately, I've been looking for a winter project.  A few years ago I drove a 1952 Ford Customline sedan and really enjoyed it, but as is my habit with such things, I dug in my heels, hemmed and hawed, and by the time I decided I'd buy it, it was gone.

I've discovered my fatal flaw in that plan (and many of the others I've hatched to buy cars).  I am, at my core, a responsible guy.  The Ford was a discretionary expenditure, a fun purchase with no practical reason to recommend it.

My current interest is in a contemporary of that old Ford.  1949-1952 Dodges and Plymouths are at their bottom dollar right now, the nexus of their depreciation.  They were functional cars of their time, but none too attractive or elegantly designed, unlike the Fords, Chevrolets, and Studebakers of the day.  Because they're not terribly desirable, those old Dodges and Plymouths are an affordable, easy way to get into vintage motoring.  Parts are plentiful, there are a total of, like, three moving pieces in the whole car so repairs are simple and cheap, and even though they aren't as pretty as some of their competitors, they still have loads of that vintage charm.

I found the one.  It's in good shape, a full-time Arizona car so it's very rust-free, and it runs well.  It has the bigger six-cylinder motor and a manual transmission, and all ancillaries work as they should.  The price is at the low end of the scale for its condition and the seller is motivated.  By all accounts, it's the perfect winter project, a cheap initial investment in an easy job requiring a little paint and some body work, but with a huge payoff in the end.

I was praying last night and I asked the Lord to help me with my decision.  I said that I wanted a cool old car and that I needed to know if it was a good choice to sink that kind of money into something like that. I reminded myself that men are that they might have joy, and while a car won't bring lasting, real joy, it still makes life a little more fun.  And I told the Lord that cars are a hobby I really enjoy. I justified the potential spending, saying that I'm young and making irrational purchases like this will be much harder if a family ever enters the picture, and so I should get one now while I can, and maybe sell it if I need the cash later.

Then, I made something of a discovery. I quickly changed my prayer to something that went like, "Help me buy a car if it's right, and if it's wrong, help me not want to buy a car."  I realized that, while I do love my vintage classics, perhaps my flaw isn't in hesitating to buy one, it's in wrapping myself up in wanting one in the first place.

Really, that's the core of almost every problem, isn't it?

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Parable of the Spoons

One night, a man had a dream. He found himself in a room, completely sealed off from the outside world.  There were no doors or windows and no way to escape.  After several hours of walking around the room, a door appeared that he hadn't noticed before; on it was an inscription that read, "For the Damned."  The man hesitated, but seeing no other escape, he walked through the door.

On the other side of the door was a bright, well-lit and ornately decorated room, centered around a long, lavishly appointed banquet table. On the table were hearty meats, savory vegetables, exquisite delicacies, and mouthwatering desserts, elaborately prepared and presented for the table guests.  Several people were seated around the table, but none were eating.  As the man looked closer, he saw that each of the people were tied to their chairs, with one hand tied behind the seat back. The other hand was free, but it held a spoon too long to be of any use to its owner.  The man saw the people load their spoons and turn them back towards themselves, but there was no way for them to hold the spoon in such a way as to feed themselves.  He watched in horror as the people, pale and emaciated, starved to death in agony.

He ran from the banquet hall back into the room in which he originally found himself. On the other side of the room, he noticed another door, upon which he read, "For the Saved." He walked through the door and thought for a moment he'd walked through the first door again.  The room looked identical, with the same embellishments, decorations, and elaborately spread banquet table. The guests at the table were again tied to their chairs, with one free hand holding a spoon that was far too long for them to eat from.  However, the guests were happy and well-fed, each one laughing and talking jocularly with the others. As the man looked closer he noticed a critical difference between the rooms: while the inhabitants of the first had been unable to feed themselves with their spoons, the guests of the second realized that they instead could feed their neighbors with their spoons and be fed in kind.  In serving each other, the saved found life and happiness.

The man realized that Heaven and Hell offered the same circumstances; the difference laid in the way that people treated each other.

Taken from Hindu and Judaic allegories

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving!

I love all holidays.  I like wearing green in March, I enjoy eating May Day cookies, the Provo 4th of July parade is the best, I love the Easter hymns and Christmas carols, I even like learning about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington on President's Day.  I am a holiday kind of guy.

And so it is with joy, anticipation, and gratitude that I welcome and commemorate Thanksgiving 2011 with a blog post.

Contrary to how I make it sound, I live an amazing life.  It has its ups and downs, but through it all, I have been blessed. Every tear shed was counted by a loving Heavenly Father who has sent His angels to be with me, both when I asked for them and when I've turned away.  I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

I am so grateful for a family who loves, supports, identifies with, and prays for me.  I have two amazing brothers that never let me forget to have fun and eat dessert first, and yet show incredible maturity and compassion when the situation calls for it.  I have a fun and loving older sister who is willing to listen to me vent, but also excitedly calls me whenever one of my adorable nieces or nephews does something cute.  I have three siblings-in-law who each have added a unique and invariably positive dynamic to the clan.  I have a father who has taught me frugality, service to others, and how to camp, throw a baseball, and replace a car's brakes.  And I have a mother who wakes up before me every morning to make sure I leave the house with a full lunchbox and a hot breakfast.  I have grandparents who have filled my life with treasured memories and who have encoded my gene pool with any number of characteristics that are mine if I choose to live up to them.  I have aunts, uncles, and cousins who show me by example how a person can succeed in spite of just about any circumstance, and be happier for it.

I have similarly been blessed with friends who lighten my load, whether it be by sharing a joke, playing music with me, offering a listening ear, or inviting me to the night's adventures.  There are also countless spiritual leaders and teachers who have offered a wealth of advice, insight, and empathy, no matter where I stand spiritually. And I'm blessed with professors, bosses, and study partners who provide training and education for a bright future.

I have a great car, a decent snowboard, and all the toys a guy could ever want.  I live in the electronic age, when uplifting messages, practical information, and social interaction are just a mouseclick away. I have a job, more money than I need, and a good start to an education.  I have talents and skills that have aided me and provided me with praise and a good self-image, while still encouraging me to constantly improve and refine them.  I am incredibly blessed.

And yet, even if I had none of those things, I suspect it wouldn't matter much, because I have been given something that has been given to everyone, regardless of their other blessings.  The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden and died on the Cross, and then rose again from the Tomb, for me.  He intimately knows me and is with me every step of the way.  He stretches out His scarred hand when I fail and begs me to return when I turn away.  He takes me under His shoulder when I am weak. And he rejoices and celebrates in my happiness.

He offers you and me His grace every day, grace that we can use to pick ourselves up when we fail, comfort our souls when we despair, and continually move forward in a path that will bring us the utmost happiness and joy.  He has offered us all He has and if we truly show gratitude for this gift, He will not let us down.

I bear unequivocal testimony, with every ounce of strength I have, that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. I will go to my grave telling of His love. No matter what happens, no matter what changes, Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose again for all of His brothers and sisters.  He loves us and will always be there, stretching out a scarred hand towards us.  He will never fail us.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Here's to your health, happiness, and bounty for one more year!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Goals, and Seeking a Little Advice

I spent a long time Monday night writing a depressing post. The words kept sounding trivial and flighty, in spite of how seismic and strange the emotions motivating them were.  I tried for about an hour, never getting past two poorly written paragraphs, before I abandoned the pursuit in favor of some milk and cookies and an hour of car racing on XBOX. It was a temporary solution to a problem that felt too real to handle with a blog post.

I went to bed early that night. I was tired of dealing with the day and spent the last part of it counting down the minutes till I could go to bed late enough to avoid feeling like an old man. Before I laid down in bed, a said a quick, but earnest prayer.  I told Heavenly Father how I felt.  I told him how worried I was that I was always attracted to my friends.  I asked for some kind of solution, so that someday I could have a good, fulfilling "best-friendship" with someone I appreciated and who appreciated me, without me adding a hopefully-invisible element of being a attracted to him.

Evergreen International says that male homosexuality isn't driven by poor relationships with women; instead it's poor relationships with men that cause our alternate attractions.  Sometime, probably sometime early, we had some kind of experience that left us wanting for genuine and appropriate male bonding, and that desire became toxic as it grew.

Anyway, the next morning, I began thinking of why I felt like I did.  I was happy in that I had been making good choices and had lots of blessings, but I was forced to confront the reality (again) that faithful obedience doesn't mean that I won't still be attracted to men. I'd made those bargains before, that I'd stop looking at pornography, that I'd serve a mission, that I'd go to BYU, that I'd accept any calling He had in store, if He'd just make this attraction go away. But that's just not how it works.

At work, in my hours of alone time, I mused about what to do with the friendship in question. I knew the standard answers, like losing myself in service, magnifying a calling, and improving myself, but those solutions, while worthwhile uses of my time, seemed like they beat around the bush. What I really needed was a way to feel like I could have a healthy relationship with someone.

I decided to make a list of things that make me happy, either superficially or really deeply, and decided that I'd make goals to correspond with each of those happy-makers.  For example, I'm putting money into a savings account that's dedicated to repairing and customizing my car.  I've also gone through my bookshelf and made a pile of books I'll be reading over the next few months. I found some old piano music that I like, so I'm going to start playing again. If this all sounds familiar, it's probably because I've said it before. These are the things that make me happy and I want to give them more prevalence in my life.

The only goal I'm really struggling with is trying to find fulfilling relationships. I'm not really capable of them, at least with other guys, as it turns out. I've outlined my shortcomings, but just have no idea how to approach them. As I was muddling through my list of interpersonal weaknesses (and strengths too), a sentiment I read years ago popped into my head.

Erin Eldridge, author of Born That Way?, writes that in her quest to overcome her same-gender attractions, she was able to supplement her emotional needs and find solace in friendship and fulfilling relationship with the Lord. (Interesting sidebar: Sometime early in the book, she writes that she subconsciously mistrusted God because of his maleness, because of her bad experiences with men in the past, but eventually overcomes that fear. She writes, and I'm paraphrasing because I lost my copy, that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are perfected in their gender.  They are both male personages, but in their flawlessness, they have grown beyond the shortcomings and limitations mortal males have. Interesting insight.)

Does anyone have any experience/practical advice with cultivating such a close relationship with the Godhead? I'd love to hear some insight into the matter. Also, looking for book recommendations.

My life is a good one. I generally am happy, but there's always room for improvement. Seems like getting better at living is a more effective solution than griping into the ethereal blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Salvation by Grace Means to Mormons

Linked below is a BYU-Provo devotional address given by Brad Wilcox, a faculty educator at the university and member of the Sunday School General Board.  To be honest, I don't tend to like Brad Wilcox's talks because to me, they sound more like a string of nice, faith-promoting, uplifting stories rather than well-developed discourses on a central theme.  This talk is what changed all that.  Find 30 minutes to spare and watch it.  In all honesty, it will change your life.

I watched this talk on Saturday night and it filled me with hope and confidence.  I am so grateful that Brother Wilcox acknowledges how hard it is to be a Latter-Day Saint and what pressure it can put on an individual.  In his address, he debunks lots of myths that I think most of us have regarding salvation by grace versus salvation through our works.  Watch the talk because I won't do it justice, but the biggest take-home message I received is that grace isn't something that I get rewarded with after I've done all I can do, but instead is a gift I've already received and a tool that I need to use as I'm trying to do all I can do.

He begins by using a story of a student of his worrying because she knows that she's not doing all that she can do, as it impeaches in 2 Nephi 25: 23, "...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."  This student acknowledges that she likes certain sins and dislikes certain virtues and knows that she hasn't reached the minimum requirement of "after all we can do." She fears that grace won't play a part in her life because she hasn't cleared that bar.  Thank goodness Brother Wilcox gently corrects her misgivings about grace.

He expresses the sentiment beautifully when he likens it to a mother paying for her child's piano lessons.  The child's practice time neither pays back the mother for the money she spent nor does it pay for the lessons themselves, but instead shows that the child appreciates and would like to take full advantage of the paid-for piano lessons. Additionally, the child's imperfections at the piano keyboard do not disqualify him from being able to keep practicing or taking the lessons; instead the child can go back and correct his mistakes and continue to improve. The mother will always supply the lessons when the child is willing to play and improve.

Brother Wilcox quips a few quotables. My favorite goes, "Latter-Day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from, but what He has saved us for."  Another good one comes after he relates a story about a Protestant friend arguing that Mormons are trying to earn their way without grace: "We are not earning Heaven, but instead are learning Heaven."  His point here is that we will fail and fall short, but this life is a time to practice being heavenly, because ultimately, it will be our choice to decide if we want to live with our Heavenly Father for eternity.

This thought intrigues me as well.  He tells a story of a young man who, after a downward spiral, is coerced by his family to attend EFY.  He doesn't even make it through the first day before he demands to come home, uncomfortable and annoyed as he is by his religious surroundings.  Brother Wilcox says that this is what Heaven will be like for some of us.  Instead of Jesus standing at the entrance, forbidding or allowing people to enter, He will be standing at the exit, begging people who want to leave to change their minds and choose to stay and become heavenly. The decision is ours, whether or not to give up.

The ultimate, overall feeling of the talk is one of the Savior's love.  The timing of the talk is excellent as well, because it filled me with hope and faith that, even in my imperfection, the Savior's grace is there for us to partake of and use to improve ourselves.  It makes me feel incredibly grateful that I don't have a minimum bar to reach to acquire this grace, and yet inspires and motivates me to do better now that I know and understand how His grace works a little bit better.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Circling the Wagons

I just found out about the Circling the Wagons conference this last weekend and I'm sad I didn't know about it in time. I'm not really plugged in to the gay-and-Mormon blogosphere, which I generally think is a good thing. I follow a few people here and there, but generally, I like my solitude when it comes to gay men.  I don't have a very good track record of managing relationships with them.  However, I was feeling that isolation today when I realized I missed what could have been a good experience. 

Circling the Wagons is a large-scale conference held in Salt Lake City for gay and lesbian Latter-Day Saints and members of other faiths, or even for those reaching out to either the religious or the gay, or both. I'm sure there's a lot of agenda going on, probably a lot of agenda that might be damaging to my spirituality, but there was one speaker I'd have loved to hear: Bishop Kevin Kloosterman. 

Bishop Kloosterman spoke in the Sunday morning interfaith worship service on the subject of finding peace within.  He spoke on the homophobia in the world at large, calling it "an atrocity" that LGBTQ people of any faith had to deal with any manner of persecution. 

In a clarifying interview with Joanna Brooks, Bishop Kloosterman outlines his quest for knowledge about the whys and wherefores behind homosexuality, especially as it relates to members of the Church.  Having been a bishop for a few years, he felt prompted to learn more about the nature of the battle, even though he'd never encountered it in his life, either with himself, family members, friends, or even members of his ward. (That surprised me.  I honestly thought that every ward had at least one.)  In any case, this came to a boiling point for him recently when Salt Lake experienced three hate crimes directed at homosexuals in a short time.  The bishop explains that it was no longer time to be a Levite, so he started getting more active in the gay Mormon community.

He further clarifies his statements made at the conference, saying that he upholds the standard that the Church has planted regarding homosexuality.

"The way the Tribune reports it takes my words out of context. I was not criticizing the Church. In fact, I felt and feel like we needed to support the leadership of the Church in their movements forward with our gay brothers and sisters."

I appreciate that sentiment.  I admit that in times of weakness I think that the Church is outdated and that homosexuality within the membership will be to the 21st century what being black was to the 20th century.  However, at my core, I believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is revealed today to church leaders.  I also believe that things will work out in their own time and season, and while I'm not positive what form that they'll take, I still believe it.  So I appreciate that Bishop Kloosterman acknowledges both the struggle and the strides the leadership is taking towards spreading a gospel of love, while still upholding the standards of the Church. 

In any case, I don't regret not going to the conference too much, especially since this was the first Sunday in a very long time that I didn't leave my ward feeling hopeless.  It's good I stayed home, but I will definitely be Celestial-TiVoing Bishop Kloosterman's talk when I get to the other side.

Straight Crush

Rachel Platten, how would you like to become Rachel MP?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Some Semblance of Relief

After my admittedly embarrassing post on Thursday night, I was left to ponder what to do with myself. Every option seemed impossible, but as my brother is wont to say, "The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time."

I set a list of smaller goals that perhaps seemed more attainable than turning my life around and serving a mission in three months.  I decided that, to serve a mission, first I needed to grow more trust in the Lord's plan for me, and if I felt that He trusted me to live with another probably-handsome young man for two years, then I could do it.  I also decided that, first, to become mission-worthy, I need to become temple-worthy, so I spoke with my bishop about the prospect of getting my temple recommend and receiving my endowment, even if I decide not to serve, just so I could feel like I was doing more for my salvation than I currently am.  I also set out a bunch of fun new rules that I get to follow, like making sure to pray and read in the morning before I get to work, as well as some personal goals like swimming and jogging to keep all this a 10 and spending more time out of the house pursuing my favorite hobbies with friends and family.  Introspection is all well and good, but for the time being, I think the less time spent alone in my head the better.

Among so many other things, the advice my loving bishop had to offer was that I needed not fear disappointment in myself or others' disappointment in me if I honestly feel like a mission isn't a good choice.  That one is hard for me to wrap my head around, because all I see is disappointment whenever I tell my parents that I need to postpone my mission, but hopefully my new goals will help with that. He also reassured me of some of my more positive qualities, which I wasn't fishing for or necessarily inclined to listen to, but it was nice of him to say anyway.  And he seemed optimistic about my ability to either serve a mission or serve in the temple, which will help me feel optimistic as well.  Admittedly, I'm living off of borrowed light, but at least I'm living.

Perhaps the biggest piece of encouragement I received this week came from an unlikely source. I attended a funeral of one of our family friends yesterday and was overwhelmed with her family's faith and reassurance in the Atonement of Christ.  Her daughter, a girl I used to hang out with occasionally, shared a touching and optimistic letter her mother had written a year ago, which referenced Job 23:8-10.

Behold I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him.  On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: but he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me I shall come forth as gold.

My friend's mother had found this scripture while battling depression and struggling to understand why her righteous desires weren't being granted and wondering why the Lord's will was so different and difficult to follow.  As my friend read this letter, I saw myself standing in her mother's shoes.  I felt a little selfish thinking of myself at someone else's funeral, but at the same time, I saw this woman for so much more than the perfect parent, spouse, and church member that I initially thought she was.  She battled disease, depression, and disillusionment for her positive outlook; it did not come naturally to her.

I suppose that's how things generally go. To crib an idea from a friend, the Lord gives us those lonely Thursday nights and then awakes us on Friday morning with the perspective we need to move forward with a little more faith than we had the night before.  Perhaps I'll remember that next time I feel the world start to fall apart.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hanging by a Thread

(Full disclosure: there isn't going to be a moral or a spiritual thought or an epiphany at the end.  I'm fed up with all of that for the night, so I'm not going to do it.)

I am fully active in my ward.  I often get compliments based on the insightfulness of my lessons and comments in Sunday School and institute and I still get referenced in people's talks because of the aurora story I shared a few months ago in testimony meeting.  I told the story of my conversion at FHE the other night and my kind and loving bishop came up after and thanked me for my insights and contributions to the ward.  If all you saw of  me was on Sunday morning and Monday and Thursday night, you'd be convinced that I'm built on the rock and that I never wavered in my faith.

But there are nights, like tonight, when I should be at Institute but I can't bring myself to go.  There are whole days when I hover right on the brink of breakdown from alarm clock to bedtime.  I wonder what reward could possibly be worth all of this trouble and aggravation, and then I think about how much my life would still suck if I gave up and gave in now, what with all the family issues and alienation from my friends it would cause, to say nothing of the potential eternal ramifications such a decision would have.

The ward is no longer a happy place.  Sundays make me sick to my stomach for all the gossip about who's dating who and who just got married and who's having a baby in a few months, feeling like most of those outcomes are long shots for me. Seeing all those pretty girls who doll themselves up to attract a man, and feeling powerless to make anything happen there. Being the perennial wingman to the ward player, the eternal bromance guy to the lonely single kid, the inveterate "safe haven" for both guys and girls to unload on.  It gets tiresome and I'm sick of it.

To hell with it all.  I'm sick of being gay.  I'm over being different.  I'm tired of not being on a mission because I can't get my mind around the fact that I could be obedient while living with at least one probably handsome man for 24 long months.  I'm done being scared of getting outed again. I am so tired of constantly battling the temptation to look at porn again, to flirt with other guys, to do the things that I'd do if God weren't looking.  I'm disgusted with myself for thinking that I'd disobey if God weren't looking.  I'm revolted at the thoughts I have to chase from my mind. I'm tired of constantly reliving my mistakes and wishing I could travel through time.  I'm tired of reading my scriptures with a question in mind and then feeling abandoned when I close the book.  I'm exhausted every night, but can't fall asleep because I can't stop thinking about how much I hate my life sometimes.  I pray for the Spirit, then bitch because I feel like living a spirit-worthy life is too difficult.

I know there's more I could do.  I'm conscious of my blessings and I know that things could be worse.  I'm fully aware that my lack of faith is what is causing all of this insanity right now. I'm sure that if I were stronger and exhibited more self control, I wouldn't have so many issues and wrestling matches with obedience and faith.  But, I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam, and right now, I feel like I'm tied up and the noose is around my neck and I'm waiting for either the last-minute pardon or for the floor to fall out from under my feet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Keep Moving Forward

I've been a little bipolar lately.  Both my jobs give me a lot of alone time, which isn't usually a bad thing, but lately it has been.  I've been reliving all of my embarrassing moments, all of my mistakes and failed relationships, all of my transgressions, etc.  I try and distract myself with my work, by going through my to-do list in my head, or by fantasizing about the one thing that usually works to sidetrack the brain into something semi-productive, but in the end, I still find myself wincing and turning red at the thought of my past.  I even am haunted by the time when I, as a 7-year-old, pushed a girl down because she was making fun of my project in art class, a memory which, by most accounts, should be fairly easily reconciled.  It seems I can't escape my past.

In any case, I've been feeling pretty down in the dumps lately and my confidence has been shaken. This was all coming to a head last weekend.  I got home Saturday night from a camping trip, having had a lot of fun, but still feeling a little blue.  I've been craving a certain movie for a few weeks, and I decided I needed some alone time to enjoy it and try to get my head in a decent place, so I ran out to Blockbuster and picked up Meet the Robinsons, one of Disney's most underrated animated features and my absolute favorite movie.

I will try really hard not to ruin it, because you probably haven't seen it and you absolutely should. It's one of those rare movies that will make you laugh and cry, but leave you feeling better about the world when the movie is over.  (Sidebar: I defy anyone who is even marginally emotional not to cry the first time you see it. I also defy anyone with even the smallest of funny bones not to laugh hysterically through the whole movie ["I have a big head and little arms. I'm just not sure how well this plan was thought through."])

Anyway, the central theme echoed several times is, "Keep moving forward."  This line is taken from a quote that states that looking back gets you nowhere and the only way to go is forward (watch the movie and you get to find out who said it first, it's a pleasant surprise). Louis, a lonely orphan, spends most of the movie looking back and wishing he knew his birth mother, but a glimpse into the future and the marvels it holds changes his outlook and inspires him to move forward.

Louis was lucky.  He, through the use of a time machine, got to see the next chapter in his life's story.  Incredibly few of us are given that literal of a gift.  However, I think we all have a sense of what happens next.  Each of us has an idea of what life will bring if we start working today to attain some of our goals. And even though life rarely turns out like you plan, with every step forward the vision becomes a little clearer and the goal becomes a little more refined. The past is gone, and while it has its share of crappy memories for everyone, most of them can remain in the past if we keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Social Experiment and a Few Theories

So, related to my last post about loving convertibles, I took my mom's 'Stang out for a drive tonight.  I had some food with me but I didn't want to wrestle with the food, the driving, and keeping my clothes stain-free, so I pulled over to eat and enjoy the night sky and some tunes.  I stopped on a dark two-lane road, but it's well-traveled, so I didn't feel too alone or anything.  I put my parking lights on and enjoyed my chicken sandwich and french fries when all of a sudden, the radio stopped playing and the lights went dim.  I had killed my battery.

Like I said, there's usually a lot of traffic on the road, so I wasn't concerned about getting some help.  It was late and my parents were headed to bed as I was leaving the house, so I assumed that they'd surely be asleep by then, and since I was close to home, I decided not to call them for help.  I had jumper cables and someone would be along to help me soon.

Well, I turned off the parking lights, set up a warning triangle, and popped my hood so people would know I needed some help.  Cars passed.  More cars passed.  About three dozen cars passed.  I had waited for half an hour with no assistance rendered or even offered.  I finished my food and thought about calling in a favor from a friend, when I decided to make a social experiment of the evening.  It's been said that the more people there are in the vicinity who have the ability to help, the less people actually do help.  For example, if there are ten people surrounding an old woman who needs assistance, two will help her.  Logically then, if there were twenty people surrounding her, four would offer to help, but the paradox in the theory says that only one would, because the other nineteen would wait for someone else to help.  It's called the bystander effect and it gained international notoriety in the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese.  Kitty was brutally murdered in Queens, New York, and even though many of her neighbors heard the goings-on, no one called the police, according to popular report, simply because they assumed someone else would do it.

There are two explanations for group inaction.  One is called pluralistic ignorance, which states that, in a group setting, individuals will look around and gauge others' reactions to decide if action is necessary, but since everyone else is doing the same thing, no one acts. The other theory is called diffusion of responsibility, which is probably the theory that supports the events of Kitty's murder. The more people there are to do something, the easier it is for the individual to assume someone else will act.  I believe this is the case in my circumstance as well.  The leader of a pack of cars can easily assume that someone behind him will stop and help me, and the tail of a pack can assume that some other pack will be coming over the hill soon, and therefore, no one need help me.

Diffusion of responsibility also has other manifestations, but I don't care to go over them here and no one cares to read about them anyway, haha.

In any case, while waiting, I started pondering on some other contributing factors.  I was parked on the outskirts of an affluent and crime-free planned community, where there is a palpable (and quantifiable) attitude of entitlement and paranoia among the residents. In my theory, the two work hand in hand.  If we take the idea to its logical extreme (and it is just that), a driver leaving the community will fall into paranoia, assuming that places outside his utopia must be crime-ridden and dangerous.  Or he may think that he's above getting his hands dirty by jumping a battery or that his time is too valuable to be spent on the roadside.  Again, these are extremes and generalizations. I don't actually think someone thinks like that.

But pondering those generalizations, I began to believe them, which brings me to another epiphany I had. As I waited and watched car after car after car pass by, I began to hate the drivers just a little bit.  I assumed that they were too big for their britches and couldn't possibly deign to help a pleb like me.  Or I assumed that they saw a well-dressed, clean-cut kid driving a nice, expensive looking Mustang and still had the gumption to think I was a hood rat. I fell into a trap of generalizing and assuming others were out to get me and that every driver on the road must have been cooperating to keep me immobilized, and thus became as paranoid and entitled as the extreme in my head.  After all, what possible reason besides group ignorance could explain such behavior towards a person as deserving as me?

To make a long story short, a nice girl stopped, opened her hood, and let me jump my car with hers.  I even saw her pass by, make a U-turn in a neighborhood, and double back to help me, thus disproving my theory that all people are scum.  In the end, I got home grateful for her help and was brought back to reality that most of my theories are based in logical extreme, rather than fact, and I felt encouraged to give others the benefit of the doubt, rather than assume that they're selfish and timid sheep.

Not a bad way to spend the night, as it turned out.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Car of the Moment- VI

I'm a convertible guy. Dennis Simanaitis, engineering editor for Road & Track magazine (dream job!) once said, "A convertible top forgives a multitude of automotive sins," and ever since my first top-down experience, I'm inclined to agree.

(A gay guy who likes convertibles?  Oh my stars, who would have thought?)

I can't say I exactly remember how old I was or what we did, but one night, my uncle took me and his sons, my cousins, on a top-down drive in his red 1966 Mustang convertible, like the one in my avatar. I remember watching in awe as he pressed a button and the top folded neatly in a little pile behind my seat.  I remember that warm, southern Utah air passing across my face as we drove. And even though I was too young to grasp that his car had woolen brakes, unreliable bias-ply tires, and a finnicky roof motor, I still suspect that those sins would be forgiven with every al fresco drive.

The rest, as they say, is history. Since that drive, I've owned a 1989 Saab 900 convertible, a 1996 BMW 318ic, and a Jeep CJ-7, and I've shared garage space with my mom's 2006 Mustang GT convertible, a near-twin for my uncle's classic. In fact, now that I'm looking back, I realize that I've never even owned a car that didn't at least have a sunroof. In short, I'm addicted to putting the roof down, no matter the weather. (Personal record? Either the 35-degree winter sunshine I routinely subjected the interior of my Saab to or the torrential Hawaiian downpour my back seat passengers had to endure in my Jeep.)

Last week, I saw a car that had me hurting for that old Swede.  Parked next to my BMW at the grocery store was a sunflower-yellow Saab 900 Monte Carlo Edition.


Now, to be sure, the yellow is a bit much (I'm not that gay), but this thing was in such cherry condition that it almost overpowered the color.  And there's always the Catholic Indulgence that is a retractable roof.

I got home and started researching the Monte Carlo 900 and it got me lusting after a new top-down ride.  My finances aren't nearly as solvent as they have been in the past, so some snooty European ride is probably out of the question, but what about an old Celica? Perhaps a black VW Cabriolet? Or, how would the virtuous convertible roof stand up against the vice-ridden Geo Metro?


Hmm, I fear I've gone too far.  I'm not sure anything could forgive that car of its sins... Perhaps it's best to wait till I can afford...


or...



or even...


 Someday, eh?

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, carpictures.com, newcarspedia.com, thriftstore.com, and forumauto.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Aurora

This weekend was filled with still more traveling.  My sister shipped her very beautiful, very new, and very loaded Ford Flex to our house, as she had been living with us for a bit while her husband got their home settled in Minnesota, but the Flex wasn't shipped in time so she had to leave it behind and let me drive it up.  14 hours across some of the most beautiful landscape in America in a car that parallel parks on its own, plays music via voice command, and has enough power and control to keep up with a Corvette in the Black Hills?  Fine, twist my arm.  Also, don't ask me how I know that it can keep up with a 'Vette and I won't have to tell you any lies.

The drive went exceptionally well.  The cherry-red Flex ate up the freeway, my Bluetooth-linked iPod spilling everything from Ke$ha to Linkin Park to ABBA to Snow Patrol. The drive through the Wyoming prairie, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the badlands of North Dakota was breathtaking, relaxing, and exhilarating at times. All was well.

As I got deeper into North Dakota, I noticed some clouds overhead.  They were thick and grey, hanging low over the horizon, so I assumed I'd pass under them pretty rapidly. The moon was still shining behind me, casting an impressive glow over the flat landscape. I drove and drove and drove, but the clouds still loomed in the sky. I thought I saw them moving about, so I pulled over to observe them without the light pollution of my headlights. I needed some fresh air anyway.

I looked ahead to the clouds and saw them stretching, thick and ribbon-like from the east to the west. I studied them a little closer and was surprised to see them dancing, up and down, subdivided into little columns that moved and oscillated, independent of the night sky surrounding them.  My heart jumped into my throat as I realized that I wasn't looking at clouds, I was watching the Northern Lights!

Chills instantly ran up and down my back and out to my periphery.  Seeing an aurora has been on my bucket list from day one of my life, it seemed, and now I had the chance. I had looked forward to them till that moment, seeing pictures of those green and blue and occasionally red lights in textbooks and on Google, and so looked forward to seeing them that I would surely be disappointed when I actually got the chance.  But even though the lights I saw were partially obscured by the full moon and the aurora above me was mostly grey and devoid of color, I was thrilled by my discovery.  I felt like the first person on earth ever to see them and nothing else could compare to their brilliance.

Jeroen Van Bergejik writes in his book, My Mercedes is Not For Sale, that, while on vacation, very few people have authentic experiences, that is, experiences that are unspoiled and free from the influence of something external. For example, eating at a "traditional" Hawaiian luau and drinking Coca-Cola with your roast pig is not an authentic experience.  In fact, it's so difficult to find a truly authentic experience nowadays because our world is so interconnected, for better and for worse.

However, in spite of the perfectly groomed highway in front of me and the $50,000 station wagon behind me, seeing those auroras floating in the night felt like an authentic experience.  I felt like the first man must have felt, looking up into the night sky, humbled, chilled to the bone, maybe a little scared, but completely enthralled and appreciative of the beauty of this world.

After awhile, I got back in the car and resumed my drive. I started thinking about how easily I almost mistook the Aurora Borealis for clouds and started thinking about the other auroras in my life that I occasionally write off as rainclouds. This life is full of Northern Lights, but sometimes it requires pulling over and studying them to really understand how amazing they are.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Last Chance?

K, so, for the record, I never believe it's too late.  I'm kind of a chronic procrastinator, which in general is a bad thing, but it also allows me the perspective to know that if I miss out on something, I'll probably have the opportunity to enjoy something just as good, because I do believe that eventually, things will work out, even if you miss a few opportunities here and there.

For example, I'm dying to get into a vintage car right now.  I really want a Volvo Amazon or Volkswagen Beetle, but the cash just isn't there.  I found an Amazon on eBay in pretty amazing shape for $2200 and started machinating ways to get the money, but as you'd expect, the car sold 6 hours after it was posted and I didn't even stand a chance to get it.  But life goes on and there will be other cars.  This is my philosophy. 

However, I'm having a hard time holding onto that ideologue as of late.  As I've alluded before, there are exceptionally rare girls who can hold my attention intellectually, spiritually, and physically. There have been girls that I worshiped for their talents, abilities, and unique and uncommon ability to give me the butterflies. But, as I've sat on the sidelines, I've watched them get picked off, one by one, and married into charmingly sweet, happy family lives. I've justified my inaction by acknowledging that even when I finally do get my shit together and feel spiritually confident enough to give my life over to someone else, that someone will still have to wait a few years while I serve a mission, and how could I make a girl wait for her sometimes emotionally distant and "gay" boyfriend when she has a perfectly eligible returned missionary ready to take her to the temple?

I have a lady friend who just got married over the weekend.  She married a wonderful, handsome guy who will give her a great life.  Still, I wonder what might have happened if I took a few swings at the ball instead of watching the pitcher throw strikes right past me.  I had a few opportunities over our years of friendship to tell her how I felt (from day one, really), that I thought she was special and beautiful and she made me feel good. However, most of those opportunities came and went with very little effort on my part. Before long, my caring for her locked me into the friend zone, that elusive, mysterious place where all of my sweet and considerate actions would be met with a, "You're such a great friend.  I will be so jealous of the girl you marry."

I'm not one for regrets, but there's a big, almost infinitely loud voice in my head saying that if I'd stayed on schedule and gone on a mission at 19, I'd be an RM right now and ready to tell that elementary school sweetheart, or this most recent bride, or the one before that, that I am in love (or whatever could be closest to it for me).  If I'd done what I was supposed to do, when I was supposed to do it, then I'd be a more complete individual today and I could feel confident in giving myself over to someone else, or at least asking them for a chance.  As I am, I feel very fractured and unfinished, and it's always been my thought that, even though I don't need to be done growing, I need to be at the very least undamaged to build something with someone else.

I hope I'm not sounding too self-deprecating. I've got work to do, but I'm also right on track in a bunch of other ways too.  I just really feel like the clock is ticking and I'm missing out on a lot of opportunities to live a life (and eternity) with the rare and extraordinary girl who makes me feel like I can do it.

I suppose, as with those old cars, there will be another special girl around the corner.  Still, I can't help but lament that old green Volvo a little bit and wish I was ready to snap it up when I had the chance.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

Well, another day, another adventure.

I landed in Portland yesterday; I came out to visit some friends who live here and to help my brother move.  I flew out, but I'll be driving his 1966 Volvo Amazon home, so it's going to be an adventure.  He keeps warning me that I'll love it for the first hour and then it'll be hot, smelly, and tiring.  I hope that's his age speaking and I'll actually enjoy it.

Anyway, yesterday I landed and made my way to the Portland Art Museum.  Right now, there is an exhibit called "The Allure of the Automobile," which you know I had to go see.  I'd heard it was a smallish exhibit and kind of pricey, but I'm a devoted autophile; I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror if I didn't go.  Within the first five minutes of entering the gallery, I'd made my investment back.


Pictured above is one of my many dream cars, the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB.  There's not a lot I wouldn't do to drive one of these things, much less own one.  Seeing in person the exact car pictured above, which won its class and finished third overall in the 1961 24 Hours of LeMans, was an absolute thrill.  This very design influenced countless Ferraris, several other exotics, and even the Ford Mustang Fastback later on.  It is a legend, and I got to stand two feet away from it.

Also featured, among the ultra-rare Tucker Torpedo, Bugatti Atalante, and others, was the 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS Teardrop.  This is, in my opinion, the most beautiful car ever built.  I think it absolutely shames anything else parked nearby.  Standing next to it, it had a presence, an air of powerful and controlled grace; it is the proverbial athlete in a tailored tuxedo.  Tell me you don't agree (Picture is of a similar vehicle selling for, wait for it, 4 million dollars at auction.  Images of the car I saw can be accessed via the museum link above.  Scroll through the gallery, it's worth it.)


All of these amazing, ultra-rare, and beautiful cars got me thinking about how good I really have it.  I'm certainly in no kind of position to ever use my Deusenberg for pizza deliveries, but I'm lucky to even be able to travel to a far-off destination, pay a museum fee, and simply look at and appreciate all of these automotive idols.  I also am grateful for designers who took the time to get the lines right and for owners who thought to care for these rare gems, rather than let them waste like I do with my cars.  I was just thinking about how lovely it is to live in a world where design and creativity in something as elementally appliance-like as a car is appreciated.  These cars are things of beauty, true works of art that belong in these museums and galleries.  Art is inspiration and I'm grateful for wherever that inspiration comes from (hint, hint).

This world is full of beauty if one takes the time to find it, and one needn't look in art galleries or the garages of the ultra-rich, either.  It's in nature and science, found in the night sky and in the operating room.  It's found in Lucky jeans, Madsen bicyles, Dyson fans, and copper and blue and red front-loading washing machines.  It's found on antique bookshelves and in gourmet kitchens and in your grandmother's music room.  Beauty is everywhere.  And every time you look at, read, taste, feel, listen to, or otherwise experience these things of beauty, they fill your life with joy.

For further information on my dream cars, visit the museum website, linked above.  Pictures are courtesy of conceptcarz.com

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Happy New Beginning- Ryan and Rachel

He is here!

Ryan and Rachel have finally and officially adopted Noah Atticus.  I can't even begin to tell you how happy I am for their little family and how now it's just a little bit more complete.

One thing that I was kinda thinking when I read about little Noah's homecoming was that how lucky this little boy is to have such loving people in his life as Ryan, Rachel, and his birth-mom, Katie.  Ryan and Rachel will make excellent parents, and Katie showed tremendous courage by giving Noah a chance at life, carrying him to term, undergoing a painful and epidural-free delivery, and then giving his future to a couple better equipped to care for him.  Noah is a lucky boy to come into the world under such circumstances.

One thought that's been marinating for a little while is the tidiness and completeness of God's plan. I have no idea of Katie's circumstances, but I have a feeling that Noah may not have been an expected or planned pregnancy; even so, Katie and Noah were prepared in the Lord's timing and way to give Rachel and Ryan the gift of parenthood.  And Rachel, through her painful and disappointing miscarriages and failed adoption attempts, was prepared and put off so that she could become Noah's mother. The pain that both families endured was to fulfill a purpose.  I've mentioned before that I have a hard time glorying in trials, but in Rachel, Ryan, Katie, and Noah's story is a practical application of just why we have to undergo pain and alter our plans for a higher purpose.

And the other rumination I've been enjoying is that God truly loveth His children.  He loved Katie enough to find her Ryan and Rachel, He loved Rachel enough to give her the determination to keep looking, and He loved Noah enough to give him a family and set of life circumstances that will inspire him to be his greatest self.

Speaking of, Noah, just so you know, To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book.  You are going to have to fill some pretty big shoes with a namesake like Atticus Finch, but I have no doubt you'll be able to exceed all expectations with parents like Ryan and Rachel and a birth mom like Katie to encourage and remind you to be your best.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Why I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

The narrator--a dog--is named Enzo, after Enzo Ferrari.  Enzo's owner, Denny, drives a BMW 3.0 CSi, one of the greatest and most attractive vehicles ever to come from BMW and indeed the world.  Denny works at a German automobile repair shop and in his spare time races touring cars.  Enzo's favorite movie is Le Mans, a movie about the 24-hour endurance race of the same name, starring Steve McQueen, coincidentally also Enzo's favorite actor.

So, yeah, with all that flotsam and jetsam, the book is off to a pretty good start.  Dog, racing, BMW.  Winning combo.

But it's so much more than that.  Allow me to explain a little with one of the last paragraphs.  It's no spoiler, but it does explain the point of the novel, so stop here if you really want to be surprised.

I know this much about racing in the rain. I know it is about balance.  It is about anticipation and patience. I know all of the driving skills that are necessary for one to be successful in the rain.  But racing in the rain is also about the mind! It is about owning one's body. About believing that one's car is merely an extension of one's body.  About believing that the track is an extension of the car, and the rain is an extension of the track, and the sky is an extension of the rain. It is about believing that you are not you; you are everything. And everything is you. (314)

I'm not usually into all this existential crap. I actually kind of hate it in a big way for its vagueness. But there's absolutely no denying the truth of that last paragraph.  Anyone who has ever driven, let alone raced, in rain knows it's true.  Balance, patience, and presence of mind are required for safe and successful driving.  Why then should it be any different for anything else?

So much that I want to tell.  But I also don't want to spoil the book.  Just know that it is so much more than cars and racing and dogs.  It's a great story and I loved reading it.  Now, I'm a little depressed that I have to find another book to read.

Depressed

Yesterday, at family home evening in my singles ward, me and a few of my friends ended up sitting around, talking story about whatever.  We laughed about funny events in others' lives, chatted about movies and TV, gossiped about sports, celebrities, high school friends, etc.

We got on the subject of The Hunger Games, which I just finished a few days ago.  I loved it.  It was so unbelievably depressing near the end, but it was a total page turner.  I cried through the last 50 pages and was legitimately depressed for a few hours after closing the final book, one, because I'm always depressed after finishing a book, and two, because the book was really really depressing, if still very good. Even so, I still find myself getting a little misty when I think about how it ended, and it's been almost a week.

I mentioned all of this to my friends, which made them laugh. I love dramatic art, but only when my life is good.  I love my Grey's Anatomy, Hunger Games, and Life is Beautiful, but I can't stand it if there's a significant personal drama going on in my life.  I can only consume something depressing (music notwithstanding) if there's something good going on in my life.  If I'm dramatic and my media is dramatic, I can't handle it.

Anyway, my new book is kinda like that.  I'm reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.  It's about Enzo, a very human dog who, on the eve of his death, looks back at his life with his family and ponders his contributions to their lives.  It's charming, sweet, funny, and insightful, but since it's about a dog dying, you can bet your boots that it's a little depressing.  Still, I'm enjoying it and I find myself marveling at Enzo's intelligence.

Last night, I woke up at 2 am and couldn't fall back to sleep, which is rare for me, so I started back in on Enzo's story for awhile.  After a few hours, I decided to try sleeping again, but felt myself consumed with a feeling I haven't had in a few months.  It started deep in the pit of my stomach, then made its way north to my throat, then settled deeper into my chest.  I was startled when a small, strangled sob made its way out of my mouth. I wondered where this sob came from, but as I wondered, the sobs came more frequently and more vocally.

Emotions like these are normal for me, but I haven't had that weird, vacuous feeling in several weeks, so it surprised me when it came.  I wondered, was I just kidding myself with all the happiness that I thought I was feeling?  Have I really been depressed this whole time, but have I just been trying to subdue it with false satisfaction?  Or have I really been happy, and it was just my preoccupation with all this depressing literature that was making me sad?

Eventually, I came to a few conclusions.  I decided that, yes, I was happy then, but for some reason, I just needed to be sad now.  I needed to wallow a little bit in self-pity and wonder why life was so hard sometimes.  I had to pine a little bit for Hawaii, for the trampoline in my backyard where me and my friend would sit and cry under the stars talking about her problems and my problems, but then move on and laugh and wrestle and snuggle, happy for the friendship and the love we had for each other.  I had to sit in bed last night and wish that I had someone, not a wife or a boyfriend or a lover, but some good friend who knew me and could let me wrap myself around them while they told me that everything was okay and that I was loved.

Well, this went on for a few minutes before I settled down a bit and relaxed.  A smile broke my lips.  It was an involuntary smile that told me that I am a happy person.  These last weeks/months of joy I've been feeling were a result of something in my mindset changing, not a result of forced repression. And I woke up this morning, a little frazzled from my fractured night of sleep, but no less grateful to be alive and well and no less happy that things are going okay for me.

There's a little raincloud chasing after me today, making me sometimes take pause and wish that things could be different and easier, but it's broken by the summer sun of a life that I know is worth living, in spite of its shortcomings and sorrows.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Purgatorio

I had the rare pleasure of reading Dante's Commedia last semester, but of course, as per my usual study habits, I left all of the reading to the last three or four days of class.  In my frenzied devouring of the material, not much actually sunk through to long-term storage and I'm fairly certain all of it left my head a few minutes after the final exam.  Still, one point stayed with me.

After the fictional Dante descends through the various pits of Inferno and then rises into Purgatorio, he encounters a wall of fire separating the land of penance from Paradise.  After seeing his guide Virgil go through the flame and emerge to the other side unscathed, one would think that Dante Alighieri, brave and intrepid thinker that he was, would readily walk through to begin his road to glory.  But he hesitates.

Peter, one of Jesus' apostles, had a probably-similar experience.  He saw Jesus walking on water, and yet he hesitated a little bit and lost sight of Jesus as he began to sink into the tempest.

When I lived in Georgia, selling security systems, our team had an awful summer.  One of the reasons for this was that I was the most experienced sales rep in the office, which is only because I arrived in Georgia a day before any of the other rookie salesmen.  With me as a leader, the team fell apart.  There was a galaxy of natural talent in that office, men and women who were trustable, charming, handsome, attractive, honest, and knowledgeable.  But for the first month, I was the most experienced.  I tried my best to train the team as well as I could, but I just didn't have enough hands-on knowledge to be a successful teacher.  By the time more experienced sales reps arrived, we had already formed almost-unconquerable bad habits and doomed ourselves to a mediocre summer when we could have been great, all because the best pacesetter we had was me.  There wasn't anyone to show us that it was possible to post big numbers, so we all assumed that small numbers were all we could do.

What, then, is Dante's excuse for his hesitation?  What is Peter's?  These men were the acolytes of two amazing pacesetters.  They received inspiration and instruction from the greatest man and one of the greatest thinkers this world has ever seen, and yet, they failed in those moments.

Now, it's not honest to call these two men true failures.  Peter did walk on water and Dante eventually crossed through the fire to gain Paradise (I love the account of his crossing, saying that the fire burned his skin but his nerves were unsinged.  I'd like to feel that painless burning he talks about someday.)

And now, to be humble, how many times do we cast off our pacesetters?  I'm not positive, but I think that even if I had someone to really teach me how to sell, I still might have done pretty crappy, because I had (and have) a pretty lame work ethic.  So what's that say for things that are really hard?  Like, say, living with same-gender attraction while still trying to serve a mission, find a companion, and please my Heavenly Father?  I've got a few pacesetters in that respect, including Jesus Himself, who suffered my specific sorrows and trials and still endured.  And yet, how often do I cast His example off, preferring instead to see the tempest raging around me or imagining the actually-harmless flames licking and burning my body?  If I'm honest, probably more often than I'd like to admit.

(To make myself feel less guilty, I'm going to lump you all in with me too.)

Why do we do it?  Why do we damn ourselves to a life of fear when we have a perfect example right in front of us?  Perhaps it's a niggling worry that God won't really save us when we sink, so why try to walk on water?  If that's our excuse, then we need to strengthen our testimonies in God's love, because "perfect love casteth out all fear."  My good friend once told me that, if we really honestly look back at the hard times in our life, we can't honestly say that God wasn't there to get us through.  If there was a limiting reagent, it was us, not God.  That means that God's probably batting a thousand, so why would He break His perfect record now? The logical answer is that He won't.  He will still do all He can to get us through the tempests and beckon us through the fire into eternal rest.

Let's not hesitate to step off the boat next time, eh?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thought of You

I'm not usually too big on modern dance, but this little video caught my eye. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. What picture do you paint on its blank canvas?

Thought of You from Ryan J Woodward on Vimeo.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Long-Overdue Life Update

Well, I've uprooted myself yet again and moved.  I haven't lived in the same place for more than 9 months since I was 18 years old and still living at home.  That first move was terrifying.  Going away to college for the first time, moving from my home state for the first time, and going the furthest away any of my family ever had (except perhaps for missions) was so scary, but I suppose I found something I liked about it, because ever since, I haven't been able to stay in the same place. 

Always moving, looking for something else, something new.  It's not a matter of dissatisfaction with my current life, although I suppose I have the impulse to run whenever things get tough, but none of my moves have ever been motivated by running from something.  I just get antsy I guess.  I figure, until I have some real reasons to stick around (big-boy job, family, mortgage, etc.) I'll just always feel like roaming.  I think the desire to uproot myself stems from my total lack of roots.  There's nothing stopping me from leaving, so why not leave until I find something to stick around for?

Anyway, I've moved again.  And I celebrated my move by unpacking and then immediately going on vacation.  Took a road trip with some friends to a lake I love and spent four days camping, cooking great food over the fire, playing on jet skis, and reading The Hunger Games trilogy.  Possibly more on that later.  And now, I've finally just gotten home.  Scrubbed and clean after three nights sleeping in a tent, I'm feeling more handsome now than I have in months, although it's probably just the monumental change from the disgusting, smelly camp me to the barely presentable, sunburned (but scrubbed and shaven!) post-vaca me that's making me feel that way.

And now that I'm back, I'll have to be finding work.  Two outstanding speeding tickets, plus rent, insurance, and food to pay for now.  Heh.  I hate being on my own sometimes.  Got a few leads on a few jobs, and in the meantime I'll be doing some crowd-control work at local concerts and community events at night, so I'll have barely enough to scrape by for a few weeks till I can find a real job.  The nice thing about moving this time of year is that all of the other college students are just now leaving for school, so I can take all their old jobs.

And with regards to the Gay Mormon Pioneer, things are going okay.  There's more distance between porn and me than there has been in a long time, my new bishop is eager to meet me and get me on a mission, and my parents have been very helpful in the moving process, which just makes me love them and trust them more. They're close, so I suppose this move isn't as drastic as some of the others have been, but it'll be nice to have some semblance of home in all my vagabond wandering.

A quick thought about my bishop: he was once the Evergreen International support group high council sponsor or whatever you'd call it from the stake.  I'm excited to hear some of his insights.  I called him on the phone before the move and told him a lot about me so he wouldn't be surprised and I'm stoked to meet him tomorrow.  I have no idea how I feel about EI, but I figure the more exposure to gays a bishop gets, the more entitled he is to revelation about it.  'Twill be interesting for sure.

More as it comes, but as for now, I'm going to go try and finish The Hunger Games tonight.  By the way, I'm totally on Team Peeta.  Gale's great, but Peeta's phenomenal.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Insignificant Death?

No death is insignificant. Everyone is valued by someone and death always leaves casualties behind.

That being said, my mom just told me today that one of our neighbors, a guy I went to elementary, middle, and high school with, died on Saturday night. Corey and I were friends in grade school. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood, he came over to play Playstation a few times, and we attended each other's birthdays every year (I still have the model Jeep he gave me once). We got into trouble hopping fences and I think I may have caused his front tooth to get knocked out when I distracted him and he ran into a parked car.

But in middle school, we definitely fell away from each other. We were never really the best of friends; I think our relationship was more one of convenience than anything else. We remained friendly all through high school and even started hanging out a little more when he joined theatre our senior year, but we weren't ever besties. He was a nice, nerdy, funny guy who I occasionally shared classes and friends with.

As such, his death is insignificant to me, at least in a strictly external way. Aside from not seeing him anymore when I mow his neighbor's lawn, I don't need to adjust my life for his absence. That doesn't make him insignificant, though.

For one, he is leaving behind a family that will feel his death forever. His sister and him began to have a good relationship in high school, when their gender and age differences faded within newfound maturity and common interests. And no mother ever wants to bury a child. I've heard it said that bereaved parents often feel an irrational guilt for outliving their child, somehow unable to protect them from their death. I wish I could unlock that door for Corey's parents to realize that nothing could have been done to save him, but no amount of logic ever seems to displace that awful feeling a parent has.

And when I say nothing could have been done to save Corey, I really mean it. Corey died of "unknown and sudden medical emergency," not of overdose, accident, suicide, or terminal illness. From what I hear, he was fine one minute and dying in an ambulance the next.

For me, the cause of his death implies the most in my life. I am not a fear-based person, but what terror his death strikes in my heart! To die, not as the result of my own poor choices or the poor choices of others, or even as a result of my infirm body! Corey likely didn't know his body was infirm until the minutes before he died, so it must have taken him (and his family) completely by surprise. Was he ready? Would I be ready?

I shed tears for Corey and his family when I heard the news. He had great potential, and while I know with no doubt that God has a plan for us, it still saddens me to see this fellow Warrior, Rensselaer graduate, and 4.0 student stricken down before he could achieve his full mortal potential. He leaves in his wake a sea of loving friends and family and an ocean of distant admirers like me. It's all in the plan, but that doesn't make the people mourning right now feel any better. We just wish we had more time with him.

His life wasn't insignificant, and just because it may not mean a lot to my daily life, he still made me think and ponder one last time. Please, pray for those who are more affected by his death than I am.

To those who knew Corey, there will be a life celebration on Saturday, July 23rd, from 2-4pm at Evergreen Memorial Park in Corey's beloved Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My First Audio Post! Getting to Know the Savior

I did an exercise in one of the student organizations I'm a part of this week about the Savior's love and I really wanted to share it, but it doesn't lend itself well to the printed word, so I decided I'd try my hand at an audio post.  I hope you'll humor me and listen to this five-minute audio clip.



Oh, PS, I jumped off a 100-foot bridge today.  I suppose "jump" is the wrong word for "rappel," but either way, it was awesome.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Life Update and Some Thoughts on Dating

Some of my friends and family who read my blog have been asking me a few questions as of late, which has led to lots of introspection and pondering on my part.

First, my sister has been asking me about how things are going and I've been honest with her about it. Things are going great for me. I've got some distance between me and pornography (no doubt helped by my computer's unfortunate status as deceased), I'm still on the road leading to a mission, I've got some great friends who know my story and some other great friends who don't, and I'm passing all of my classes (incluyendo espaƱol! Es un milagro!).

I'm also making new friends who are helping me understand what it takes to be gay and Mormon and who are encouraging me to be as religious and active as possible, which feels great after the hot mess that was Toby. I was afraid that if I ever was out to another gay person again, all he'd really be looking for was sex, so it's refreshing to see that there are people who can be supportive without angling for something else.

Another friend asked me something a little surprising and deep the other day. We were talking about dating and being Mormon and gay and what implications all that had on our lives.  We had been discussing whether or not dating girls was a good idea, but it made me start thinking about what it would be like to just date and meet guys, without it becoming a relationship.  With Toby, dating was never a part of the picture.  We got together, we cuddled, we made out, we split.  There was rarely introspection or sharing of emotions and goals.  It was mostly sexual/sensual for us.  So I'm naturally curious what it would be like to go on a normal, non-physical, get-to-know-you first date with a man, like so many of the first dates I've had with women.

My friend asked, "Wouldn't dating a guy be counterproductive, given all that you're trying to accomplish?"  That, friends, is the question of the hour. Would dating a guy be a bad choice even if we were able to keep the dating chaste?

My initial response because of my upbringing would be to say, "Yes, dating someone of the same gender is bad, no matter what."  But in my mind there are a million little justifications, like, "It'd be nice to have someone to confide in," and, "Maybe we could help each other be good," and, "Dating a girl is not sinful as long as we don't have sex or go too far, so why should dating a guy be any different?"

These are rationalizations I used when I saw Toby.  I would go to his house under the pretense of him needing to talk, and once we ended up kissing for like, an hour.  I don't necessarily feel guilty for any of that, but I also acknowledge that it wasn't emotionally or spiritually fulfilling, and it certainly wasn't a relationship of confidence or helping each other be good.

Given that I want to serve a mission, in spite of my misgivings towards the church regarding homosexuality, I reckon that dating would be counterproductive. And in spite of my attraction to those new friends (one in particular), I'm grateful they still encourage and champion my desire to serve a mission and leave their  attractions off the table.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Splitscreen: A Love Story

This is hands down one of the most fun and intricate videos I've seen in a very long time.  It was shot entirely on a Nokia phone for a promotion the company sponsored.  It had me enthralled the whole time and by the end, yes, I was a little bit misty.

Just beautiful.

Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ignorance or Apathy?

It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.

A few weeks ago I posted something in which I said that I was jealous of those who don't have the internal conflict Mormon homosexuals face.  Either they are heterosexual and have testimonies or are homosexual and don't, so either way there are few obstacles to their happiness.

The next day I came across the above scripture.  It slapped me in the face a little bit, especially regarding the envy I had been feeling for others who may fall in the "ignorant" category.  (Again, a disclaimer:  I'm talking hypothetically.  My knowledge is not your knowledge.  These are my thoughts as they apply to me.)

First off, I feel like this scripture needs a little clarification (gospel of gmp here, not doctrine). If a man is born gay or develops gay tendencies or whatever the current scientific opinion is, but never hears the Gospel, this scripture doesn't say that this man is damned because of his ignorance.  He will hear the Gospel and will then have the opportunity to accept or reject it.  That is a basic principle that applies to everyone.  So instead of ignorance, I think this scripture instead is referring to apathy, like it says in its footnote.  The same book of scripture says that many are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it, not because they don't care about finding it.

As I was reading and thinking about this scripture, I came to a conclusion or two.  I have received a witness of some of the laws of God.  No amount of jealousy for those who haven't will make that witness go away.  In addition, I wasn't coveting their ignorance, I was hoping for apathy.  I was seeking a mindset where I didn't care about the truth enough to have it stand in my way of living a gay lifestyle.

I'm going to really try hard to eliminate that envy I have for other people.  No amount can change my circumstances, and that jealousy can become twice as damaging when it's directed at a mindset that ultimately is damaging.  I do have a testimony and I also am gay.  That is my reality and I can't create the ignorance or apathy required for my life to change.  The only thing I can do to make things better is learn more about the nature of my life and go from there.  

Is the problem ignorance or apathy?  Hey, I don't know and I don't care.
Jimmy Buffett

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Outed?

This post isn't about me being outed, it's just some musings I've been having about coming out more publicly to more people.

My buddy Kurt messaged me a few hours ago talking about how he had been attending church again semi-regularly for the last few weeks and had the missionaries over for a few lessons as well.  He talked about the things he missed about going to church and about possibly becoming an active member again.  I didn't really know how to respond via Facebook message, but I've been thinking a lot of the same things he has, so with his permission, here are parts of what he said:

One of the big reasons I felt so depressed towards the end of my active membership in the church is that I was trying to be somebody else.  Not me.  Despite the church members around me knowing that I liked guys and had relationships with guys in the past, I was trying to live the life of a straight Mormon guy.  I was trying to be the stereotype of what was expected of me.  

I understand how he feels.  I kind of hate living a "straight" life sometimes, even though most of my readership already knows how incredibly gay I can be.  It just gets kinda annoying when I'm at family reunions and my relatives are good-naturedly asking if there are any cute girls in my life.  This last reunion, a guy I think I like was texting me one night and his texts were making me smile that kind of smile.  All my aunts and female cousins kept asking things like, "Who's the cute girl you're texting, GMP?  She sure is making you smile big!"  Yeah, awkward.

So what then is the solution?  I don't want to deny my testimony and to live my testimony means living a straight life.  Or does it?  

Says Kurt:

I've started to think, what if I was an active gay member of the Church?  No longer pretending or trying to be something else, but embracing the fact that I'm gay and still worthy of the priesthood... I've never tried to be in the Church and just be gay.  It would mean celibacy, it would mean not falling in love, it would mean a life not as a father or a husband.  But it could mean a life with the full Gospel in it.

Being from a pretty liberal and progressive area, I think my denomination would be open and accepting of me as long as I chose not to live the lifestyle, and even then I know some would still welcome me to church every Sunday, literally with open arms.  It also would be nice not to hear some of those encouragements to date from people who have no business doing so.  It might even open up an open dialogue for others who face not only homosexuality but other taboo temptations, like cravings for drugs and alcohol, for example.  In an ideal world, Mormons might no longer feel so much pressure to be perfect and to think good things all the time.  

But such a life is not without its negative implications.  For me, I'm pretty completely gay, but there have been girls that make me feel "straight."  It's rare, but it happens, and if I were out among my church friends, if I ever met that girl, she might write me off completely as "the gay guy" and then the door would be shut forever.

And in my group of friends back home, we can act pretty gay.  We do the whole butt-smacking thing and sit close during movies and stuff, and I wouldn't want to upset that dynamic by throwing a sexual orientation in their faces.  I know they'd be mature enough to accept me and love me, but I don't think they would be as comfortable with acting that way as they used to.  Who knows, maybe I'm underestimating mankind?  Heaven knows it's happened before that a friend of mine remained cool and friendly even after he found out.

Additionally, even though it's never happened to me, I've heard stories of bishops cautioning gay Mormons to keep their struggles to themselves, perhaps in the hopes of not flaunting trials or making homosexuality more acceptable.  Fred and Marilyn Matis, parents of Stuart Matis, wrote in In Quiet Desperation that their friends said that they should be more discrete with their son's sexual orientation both before and after his suicide.  

I'm not positive why people would make that recommendation, but it might have something to do with the amount of access it might give the temptation.  For example, in the last few months, my will to resist has waned pretty significantly to the point that I've acted out sensually with a few guys.  I've never crossed the line, but I'm closer to it now than ever before, and it's all due to outing myself to other gay people.  Since coming out to Toby (and starting this blog), I've encountered more attractive men than ever, and some of those men have been attracted to me as well.  The level of access to romantic entanglement has increased and so has the temptation and desire to submit to it.  If I were completely public, I might become an object of desire to the closeted gays in my circle, which would be good for neither of us.

Given all of those negative (and admittedly hypothetical) ramifications, coming out just doesn't seem worth it.

I'll freely admit that one of my goals in starting this blog was to bring more awareness to the plight of gay Mormons.  I wanted to pioneer a movement where we would feel comfortable being out among our congregations, living faithful lives and doing our best to resist temptation.  I feel incredibly duplicitous, but my confidence is waning and I don't think I have the courage to do that anymore, at least for now.  

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