I accept your thoughts and prayers

prayer-13-04-3We’ve seen the posts and heard the words. “Thoughts and prayers for Orlando.” The same sentiments were shared after the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Wisconsin, Oregon and elsewhere. While the words are meant to comfort, too often they anger the people who need the comfort the most.

Why do they create so much division? I have often wondered; I always considered prayer a gesture of empathy. If somebody says they are praying for me, it’s proof that they care. Others, however, don’t see it that way. Prayer, to them, is just and empty gesture that won’t do anything to solve the problem. It comes across as a hollow gesture when many feel that religion has played a role in creating the problem. I get that, and I don’t want to downplay those feelings; being let down too often can lead to those real, raw emotions of abandonment.

Prayer for me, however, has always been more than just words. I was taught to pray for understanding. When I see a person offering prayers for the people of Orlando, I believe they will be searching for understanding. They want answers of how something so horrible could happen and what more they can do to help. Those are tough questions to answer without some sort of prayer or meditation.

When I was taught to pray, I was told to pray for guidance–to discover what I should do next. It was up to me, however, to search for ideas and meditate on which of the proposed solutions would be best.

Whatever the answer, prayer requires me to follow up with action.

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So, when people offer prayers after tragedies like Orlando, I have hope. I have hope that people who don’t understand the pain and anxiety this has created in the LGBTQ community seek to for empathy. I hope that they pray to find out what they can do to help the victims of this horrible crime. I hope they search for what they can do to avoid more tragedies.

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Their prayers give me hope that there will be at least one more ally joining our fight for acceptance and equality.

When others get angry because of your offers of prayer, don’t despair, just pray to understand their hearts. Yes, prayer does have a way of softening hearts, but it usually changes the person who prays first. As we pray, we will learn how to better reach out to those who are in pain, and that is what we all need.

 

 

Too Late

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I had some strong impressions last week to do some writing for this blog. Over the past year, I had witnessed an increasing number of rants against LGBT people posted in my social media feeds. Whether I saw hateful memes or links to other angry blog posts about public restrooms, boycotting businesses or how confused and sick we are, I remained quiet. I fooled myself into believing that those authors of hate would stop if I choose not to join in the argument.

My urge to write again began last week when I saw several people repost a rant about our local Pride Festival. The author of the rant was upset about the rainbow flag flying higher than the U.S. flag at city hall. Although he was correct that this should not have happened, his rant was really a chance for him to go off on how we as LGBT people are ruining the nation. Every friend who passed on that verbal tirade silently confirmed that they do not consider me an equal.

I wanted to write something to respond, but I couldn’t find the right words. I wanted to let them know that every time they pass on an angry rant against any group of people, they are in an indirect way giving support to the lunatics who intentionally hurt those same people. When we say that we agree with somebody’s hateful ideas by posting them in our social media feeds, shouldn’t we think that we are also giving permission to somebody who sees those messages permission to physically harm others?

We suffered a national tragedy yesterday. My heart aches for the lives that have been lost and the many families who now mourn. I am not sure I can do much about this growing problem, but I know that I can influence my little part of the world. From now on, I will speak up whenever I see hateful messaged passed amongst my friends. I will stand up to the hate when I can. My silence didn’t help.

This is what we experience

To all of my religious friends, I would like to enlist your help. I was browsing through the comments of an online article trying to gauge the feelings a few days since the Supreme Court rulings about marriage. Of course, there were a lot of hateful messages that I just tried to ignore. I realize most of them are just people attempting to troll and create contention, and they aren’t worth any sort of response. Unfortunately, my heart sunk when I read the following post:

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This sort of comment frightens me, and we need to band together and let everyone know we will not tolerate such threats. How can we combat such hate? I don’t consider this comment where somebody suggest all gay people be rounded up and sent to ISIS to be funny, but how do we show the country–the Christians who want their freedom to disagree–to see that these sorts of ideas are still very real and a threat to people’s safety?

What I think we need to do is show people the kind of hate that is really still out there. While I usually don’t ask this with my posts, please help this one go viral. We need to find ways to put an end to such horrible attitudes.

I didn’t celebrate

TempleYesterday was an amazing day. I woke early to do some trail running in the beautiful foothills of the Salt Lake Valley. I planned the run to be early enough in the morning so I could avoid the heat that was forecast to approach close to 100 degrees for the day; I don’t handle heat very well.

After the run, I made a planned stop at the gym to soak my legs and feet in the hot tub before I showered and put on fresh clothes before I headed to the air-conditioned movie theater next door. Summer is my time to catch up on the movies I don’t see the rest of the year, and I don’t mind going to matinees alone.

I then spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon browsing home improvement stores as I made a mental wish list of features I would like to add to my home. As I looked at the different design ideas, my heart longed for a day when I would have somebody with whom I could share my home. Unfortunately, I feel like that day will never come.

As I got into the car to come home, I heard the radio announcers talk about the day’s Supreme Court announcements. I experienced a brief sense of joy, but deep down in my soul was some aching. My aching, you see, is because I knew too well what the reactions of many friends and family members would be.

I was tempted to get on Facebook and Twitter when I got home to read the reactions of others, but something inside me–I will say it could be that still, small voice we are taught about in Primary–that something told me that reading the posts of others would not be good for me on that day. I had the deep impression that I should wait at least a day.

So, June 26 became a social-media-free day for me. I missed out on a few local celebrations, but I spent the remainder of Friday taking care of some home maintenance, reading and planning some future writing projects. I was tempted several times to check up on how others were responding to the day’s news, but I resisted.

Believe what you believe

I waited until after I took a morning walk to open my computer this morning. When I first checked in on Facebook, there were a few jokes about rainbow explosions all over social media, but the lighthearted tone didn’t last very long.

I started seeing post after post from my LDS friends. Very few had comments from the individual who posted, but they were links to articles. Post after post were like needles in my heart, as I read headlines telling me that the people from my church, the kids I knew in school, and even family members truly believe that I don’t deserve the same happiness they take for granted.

Now, I am not going to ask my LDS friends to change their beliefs, but I want to ask them what bombardment of links and quotes posted on social media is meant to accomplish. Perhaps it’s an attempt to reaffirm one’s faith, but isn’t that best done in your home and not on a social media site?

I am sure I am not the only one who has been hurt by the passive-aggressive disapproval of who I am that has been shared so many times in the past 24 hours. I have other friends who have posted on their social media outlets at how disappointed by the angry reactions of friends and family members. I didn’t celebrate because even though the government now recognizes me as a full citizen I now know that too many of the people I love don’t think I should be treated with fairness.

I long for the day when true believers will accept that Jesus atoned for me just as he did for each of them.

I’m Not a Service Project

You invited me
To sit with you on Sunday.
That’s nice.
But why would I want to sit
In a place where most don’t even care if I am there?
Neighbors fill the pews on Sunday
To learn about love and kindness
And then leave the building
Only to ignore me throughout the week
They avert their eyes when I wave during my morning jog
Or look straight ahead as they pass in their cars.

I’m the stranger in a familiar land
The prodigal who has yet to return
A gentile raised as a saint
Shunned for my selfish sins.

It’s hard living on a street where nobody knows your name
They only know me as the gay guy.

I will sit with you
If only I could be fully included.

But I would rather have my neighbors smile when I say hello
Thank me when I shovel snow from their sidewalks
Inquire about my life
And sit with me in the shade of my front porch.

I will sit with you when it isn’t written on your agenda
Part of a special event
Or an assignment from your priesthood leader;
I would rather be loved
Than be your service project.

I’m still standing

Maximum Change Inc surmounting obstacles
It has been quite some time since I have written anything for this blog. A lot has happened in the months since I last posted–to much to go into here, but I would like to catch up a little bit. Instead of focusing on the big news, I would like to focus on some more personal details of my life. Quite frankly, I have been conditioned to believe that nobody really cares about my struggles, so I have kept them to myself; that is not good for my emotional, spiritual, or physical health.

The burden of debt

Just a few short years ago, I felt like I was invincible. I had just completed my masters degree and started a new career. At the same time, I was finally seeing the fruits of my efforts in starting a side business with a partner start to pay off. My mortgage refinance was approved, and I would be paying a lower rate.  I was even ready to start dating again, and the thoughts of being in a relationship were exciting.

Well, things came crashing down around me within a few short months. My business partner decided he no longer wanted me to be a part of our company, I soon discovered that I was a victim of identity theft, and to top it all off, I was involved in a car accident that totaled my car. Oh yeah, I was still trying to pay off my students loans when all of this happened. I was ruined. To make matters worse, a friend joked that God must be punishing me for some bad choices that I have made, and I believed her.

I will go into the details of my soured business relationship in another post, but it left me with some financial obligations that I have worked hard to resolve. Unfortunately, the identity theft ruined my credit, and I have been spending the past few years trying to fix a problem that will most likely take several more to clear up. The debt and car accident sent me into a downward spiral that resulted in fatigue and other physical problems.

The good news, however, is that I am finally finding ways to combat my health issues, and I have cleared up many of the debt obligations. Unfortunately, my credit rating is still suffering from some poor businesses choices I made and the dishonest actions of somebody else I have still not been able to identify.

Mourning alone

Mid-March I got the news that a long-time friend had passed away as the result of cancer. She was actually more than just a friend, but she was the woman with whom I had shared some of the most heart-wrenching details of our lives. We instantly clicked when we first met, and at one point we thought we could wind up getting married. Of course, I eventually came to admit that that was not meant to be, and we even survived that difficult breakup and still remained best friends.

I wound up morning her death on my own because of several reasons–the main being that she was able to move on in life, marry, and have that family that would never have been possible with me. I didn’t know who to turn to; many people who knew the both of us still blame me for the heartache caused her, but I know in my heart our choices were for the best.

Just short weeks into the mourning process, I went on a road trip with a friend. I thought it would be a good chance to get out, stop pitying myself, and enjoy exploring a city with somebody else. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a miserable time with two people in a car who wanted to do different things the entire time.

I’m still standing

In the past ten or so months since I last wrote, I have had plenty of time to reflect on my life and my interactions with others.  I now realize that through all my struggles, I have tried to get through them all on my own. Yes, I have shared the most intimate details of my life with a few select people, but when they exit your life, it can be devastating. As I struggle to be more open with people, I am finding that so many people are willing to love and offer hugs and encouragement, wipe away my tears, and cheer with me through my successes.

Like many members of the LDS church who grew up feeling like we have secrets that we need to hide deep within our souls, I allowed those secrets to damage me for too long. Dialogue is finally happening among congregations throughout the worldwide church that are finally allowing us to be open and heal the wounds created by our own insecurities. It’s time I start healing; it’s taken to long to get started.

Chapter 12 – Come, All Ye Sons of God

And when your grief is o’er and ended your affliction,
Your spirits then will soar to await the Resurrection;
And then his presence you’ll enjoy,
In heav’nly bliss your time employ,
A thousand years in Zion to praise the Lamb.
“Come, All Ye Sons of God”, verse 4, LDS Hymns, lyrics by Thomas Davenport

 

Church is meant to be a sanctuary. It should be a consecrated place where we all feel safe from the troubles of the world. Latter-day Saints also expected to look out and protect one another from the pain and abuses inflicted by others. Unfortunately, my family’s place of worship was a place where my peers had another opportunity to cause extra stress in my life.

 

When an LDS boy turns 12, he leaves childhood behind and begins transitioning into manhood. The most important step the young men take is to accept the responsibility and authority of the Aaronic Priesthood and being ordained a Deacon. The boys are assigned a Quorum with an adult leader, but they are also guided by a presidency of four peers around their own age.

 

In January 1981, it was my turn to leave Primary and become  a Deacon in the Mormon church. My hope was that I could once again find safety among other boys who were doing their best to follow God’s commandments. The first cold Sunday morning I arrived at the church building with my father, I was dropped off at the building’s kitchen that also served as our classroom and met the other boys who made up the quorum.

 

There were fourteen of us leaning back in metal folding chairs around the perimeter of the kitchen. Kurt Monson, who was two grades ahead of me in school, started out the meeting by making a few announcements about Wednesday’s Boy Scout service project and who was going to pass the sacrament later in the day. He recognized me as the newest member of the quorum, welcomed me to the ranks, and then invited me to say the opening prayer.

 

After the prayer, the bishop of our congregation entered the room, and he took over the rest of the meeting.

 

“Good morning, brethren,” Bishop Calder said. “As many of you know, Brother Monson has served diligently as our Deacon’s Quorum president for a little over a year now. We are so grateful for his faithful service, but it is time for us to make some changes as he advances to the office of Teacher today.”

 

The boys in our room started looking around to see if any expressions would give away who would take  over as our new leader. Bishop Calder named the other boys who served with Kurt in the presidency and released them from their callings. We all raised our hands offering our approval of their service and waited for the announcement of their replacements.

 

“One of the joys of being a bishop is the opportunity to interview young men when it is time to extend a calling,” Bishop Calder said as he cleared a crack in his voice. “It is so rewarding to hear of your love of the gospel and witnessing your willingness to serve one another. The young man the Lord has called to serve are your new president exemplifies the best in all of us, and he also happens to be the newest member of our quorum–“

 

All eyes turned on me, and I was just as surprised as everyone else by the announcement. I thought the bishop was supposed to interview me first. I  was not ready to lead this group of boys. The bishop noticed the reactions in the room and laughed.

 

“Excuse me,” he said and cleared his throat again. “I guess I should say one of the newest members of the quorum. It’s proposed that we call Brother Nickolas Shepherd as president…”

 

I forget what was said after that. All that mattered was that Nick Shepard, my tormentor, was now responsible for my well being in church. Surely this was a cruel joke. God one not call someone who was so mean to be his servant. I looked around as the other boys raised their hands in approval of the callings. I wondering what would happen if I objected, but I raised my hand with the others and accepted Nick as my new leader.

 

The bishop then called on all of the boys who were released to speak, followed by our new leaders. Each boy said similar things–that it’s a joy to serve one another. Nick was the last one to speak, and he did seem a little bit humbled by his new calling.

 

“I will do my best in this calling,” he said looking around the room. His eyes stopped on me, and he swallowed hard. “I am also happy to see Colin join us in the quorum. This is going to be fun.”

The adult bully

Iworkplace-bullying-autism don’t know what has changed recently, but I have had another uncomfortable incident this past week. Another adult confronted me in a hostile manner, but this time I know it was because of my sexual orientation.

I was waiting outside a county rec center after swimming with my local team. A man approached me and asked where the nearest bar was. I told him the closest ones I knew of were downtown–approximately 20 blocks away. He then asked how to get there, and I suggested he take a bus. He left.

His demeanor was a little bit strange, but I felt safe because there was a large crowd finishing a company dinner in a park pavilion near the pool. The sun was setting, and people were busy cleaning and packing their picnic supplies and families into their cars. The man wouldn’t try anything stupid with so many people around.

Soon other friends were gathering in the parking lot. We talked about meeting somewhere for dinner and decided to go to a new restaurant just down the street. The picnic crowd was gone, and just a few swimmers from my team remained. I was talking with a friend, Mike, and we were planning to walk to the restaurant when the intoxicated man approached us again.

“Is this the library?” he asked.

“No, it’s a pool,” Mike answered.

The man started walking to the building’s front doors, which were now locked. I thought he must be looking for a public restroom.

“The building’s locked,” I told him, and I pointed east past the building. “The closest library is that way.”

“I don’t want the library.”

“What are you looking for?” Mike asked.

“Is this where the fags meet?” he then asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The fags. Is this where the fags meet?”

“Why?” Mike asked. “Do you want to meet some fags.”

I laughed, but tried not to let the drunk man see it.

The man was looking in the rec center’s front door, and he then turned and started walking towards us. I experienced a brief flashback to my mid-August altercation; this couldn’t be happening again.

“Let’s get in my car,” Mike whispered. “We can drive to the restaurant.”

“I don’t want to meet fags,” the man yelled. “You guys disgust me.”

Thankfully, my friend’s car was close, and we avoided any more problems. We didn’t say anything else about the situation on our short ride to the restaurant, and we didn’t tell anyone else about it during dinner.

Now I wonder if we should have done more. Should we have stood up for ourselves, or would we have put ourselves in danger for speaking up? Was it our responsibility to let others know what happened so that they can be more cautious at the pool? I am ashamed I didn’t do anything.

What bothers me the most is that I still haven’t told anyone outside of this blog and the police officers about what happened to me during my Saturday morning jog last month. Mike doesn’t know, and I don’t know if he saw how much this brief incident frightened me; he left the restaurant early, and I remained there as other people finished their meals.

I wound up walking back to the rec center alone. I am not going to lie–I was terrified of running into that man again and getting beaten up in an empty parking lot. My car was one of three when I returned, and it was in a darker section away from the light posts. I made it into my care safely, and my heartbeat decreased as I got onto the freeway to my home. I couldn’t get the thought of what could have happened out of my mind, however.

We read so much in the news now about childhood and teenage bullies, but we don’t do much about the adult bullies in our lives. The problem is that much of what an adult bully does is protected under our constitutional free-speech rights. I believe in protecting those rights, but too often such hateful speech eventually leads to crimes. How can we allow for complete freedom of speech and cut down on hate crimes in our communities? If anyone has the answers, I would like to know.

My favorite season is football season

English: School band performing prior to a BYU...

It’s confession time. I love football season. I love the smell of hotdogs and popcorn in a crowded stadium. The echoes of a drum line and announcer make my heart skip. I love sitting in a large arena jammed with thousands of screaming fans. I enjoy the cheers and jeers amidst the crunching of helmets and shoulder pads. I love college football, and my favorite team is BYU.

I think my love of the game began when my family first got season tickets when I was twelve. I reluctantly got into our station wagon for our first trek to Provo for a game led by Jim McMahon. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was instantly awed when we entered the stadium. I hadn’t really watched a football game up to that point–my family didn’t really watch much TV, and if the tube was on, we weren’t watching sports. I didn’t understand what was happening during the first game, but I enjoyed what I saw. The offensive and defensive battle on the field enthralled me, the marching band entertained me, and the cheerleaders managed to draw me into the loud audience participation.

I have fond memories of attending every game of BYU’s national championship season, storming the field after the Cougars upset number one ranked Miami, and getting drenched during Lavell Edward’s last game as a head coach. The games were an escape from the brutal realities of life.

Can a gay man be a BYU Football fan?

It’s been several years since I have been a season ticket holder. I guess I stopped buying tickets about the same time I came to terms with being gay. I told myself I stopped for financial reasons, but I think part of me felt like BYU was no longer a place I would feel at home. I still watch every game I can on TV, but I miss the magic of the stadium.

I feel the game tugging at my heart. I want to return. I want to be a part of the crowd. Part of me wonders what it would be like to take a boyfriend–in my dreams he’s also a BYU fan–to Lavell Edwards Stadium and cheer on our mighty cougars. Would we stand out? Would anyone even know we were a couple? Would we be invited to leave? Should our sexual identities even matter?

While I am getting ready to watch the Cougars take on Texas in a little over 30 minutes, I am setting a goal to get financially and emotionally ready to once again become a BYU Football season ticket owner. I miss it.

A hit of reality

jogger in parkTwo weeks ago I decided to go for an early morning run in the park near my home. It was a beautiful morning. I stopped to watch the bright red sun rising above the mountain peaks as I stepped into the park. I pulled out my phone and took a picture of the gorgeous scene. A man then stepped out of a gray hatchback car that was parked on the street by the park. I thought it was a little strange that he came right up to me as I was enjoying the sunrise, but I tried not to look concerned.

“Sup?” he said.

“Just enjoying the sunrise before I go for a run in the park,” I said without looking at him.

“Is that all?” he asked.

“That’s all.”

I put my phone in my shorts’ pocket, turned away from the man, and began my morning run a little earlier than I wanted. When I got to the edge of the park and turned to go east, I glanced back at the car, and I noticed the man was still watching me. I told myself he was far enough away that I would be safe, and continued on with my run.

I passed a few other people out for a jog or walking their dogs. Everyone was friendly, and we all seemed to be enjoying the cool summer morning in the park. Returning to my starting point, I saw that the gray hatchback was gone, so I felt safe returning there. I climbed the hill to a long, white vinyl fence that created a blockade between the neighborhood houses and the park. I pulled out my phone to see how far I ran for the morning.

As I was about to step around the corner into my neighborhood, the same man stepped from behind to fence to greet me. He had moved the car to a different spot, and his black curly hair was pulled back into a small ponytail.

“‘Sup?” he says. He steps to the left to keep me from walking past him.

I look at the car and notice three other people watching our activities.

“Just finishing my run,” I said.

I try to step to the right, but he blocks me.

“What are you doing with your phone?” the man asks.

“Just seeing how far I ran.”

I try to maneuver around the man, but he chest bumps me. I am stunned, nobody has ever done this to me. Even the bullying I experienced as a child never involved a real threat of violence. What was going to happen to me?

“Hey,” I yell.

I try to be as loud as I can so that others can hear. The man then clenches his fists, and I am hit twice in the right jaw and once in the left shoulder. I look back at the car, and I imagine the others are waiting for me to fight back. I refuse, because I don’t want them joining in on the attack.

“Sup?” the man says again, as he throws two more punches.

“What’s your problem?” I yell as loud as I can.

“You better not call the police,” my attacker warns me.

Lights turn on in the two houses bordering the park, and my attacker notices. My yelling has drawn some additional attention, and he paused for a moment. I run past him onto the street of my neighborhood. I make it twenty yards from my attacker and the car, and turn back. I lift up my phone as I face my attacker at a safe distance.

“I was just checking how far I ran,” I yelled back as I took a picture of the man and his car.

My house was visible from the park, but I wasn’t about to let those people in the car know where I live. I walked around the street just in case they were going to try and follow me home. When I saw that they weren’t following me, I called the police. I tried to stay calm as I explained what happened; the adrenaline release after an attack or fight can often cause people to cry.

How the attack has affected me

The police have investigated what happened, but they haven’t located the guy who attacked me. We’re not sure why he did it, but I have heard of two other acquaintances being assaulted while exercising recently. I hate to admit it, but the attack has shaken me up enough that I haven’t been back to the park that is just yards from my house since that day. I drove past several times, and I saw the same car parked at the same spot last Saturday morning. I called the police officer investigating my case, and told him the car was parked there again. I wasn’t brave enough to get close enough to identify the license plate numbers, and the car was gone by the time a police officer was able to go by the spot and check it out.

What has bothered me the most, however, is how alone I felt after I was attacked. I live alone, and I didn’t have anyone there to comfort me. The friends I used to go to regularly have gradually distanced themselves from me. We used to get together weekly, then I started getting calls from them about once a month, and now it’s only on birthdays when we get together. Why would they care that I was attacked?

I am fortunate that this attack did not turn out to be worse. How many hours or days could I have been injured without anyone I care about knowing about my condition? That has frightened me. I think my yelling and not fighting back kept me from being seriously injured, but I no longer feel safe in my own neighborhood. And the number one reason I don’t feel safe is because I am alone.

“It is not good that man should be alone.”

I’ve heard that saying my whole life, and I believe that. Yet, here I am having spent my entire adult life alone. I tried dating women. I hoped to find the right woman to marry and raise children, yet deep in my heart I knew that marrying a woman was not the right thing for me to do. I have endured the judgments that come from being a single man in my Mormon community, and it has been hard to stay cheerful about my situation.

I am grateful that church leaders no longer encourage men to get married to a woman to cure their homosexuality. It showing that they are taking baby steps in understanding who we are. I gives me hope that even more changes in attitudes can come in the future. Unfortunately, the same church leaders who tell us not to marry also subtly counsel us to live a life of loneliness. We are not to marry a woman, but we are also commanded to not seek companionship of someone we could truly love.

Up until about two weeks ago, I was relatively comfortable being alone in life. Sure, I envied those around me who had life partners and families, but I told myself that I was happy where I was. I was resigned to the fact that I was meant to be alone.

I am not comfortable being alone any more. I don’t want to be alone. I want the companionship and friendships of people who love me for who I am. The attack in the park has awakened me, and I realize that the line “it is not good that man should be alone” is also meant for me. It’s time to be happy, and it’s time to share that happiness with a man that I love.