Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"...ye must pray always, and not faint..."

Rough day today

             I had a particularly rough day today, I ran into someone from my past, and had to explain why I am not seeking a gay lifestyle...that deserves an entry of it's own and I have so many commitments that it is hard for me to find time to do things like breath, homework, and study for this exam that I have on Wednesday.  I honestly don't know when I am going to study for the test.  I'm kind of freaking out about it.  On top of this, I found out that someone very close to me is struggling more than I realized, it became too much for me to handle.  Even though my roommate might not be very missionary minded, he still holds the priesthood so I knocked on his door and asked for a blessing.  I have always had a strong testimony of the priesthood.  I know that it doesn't matter who gives the blessing, as long as they hold the priesthood, are worthy, administer correctly, and I have enough faith, the blessing will be effective 100% of the time.

             In the blessing I was reminded that God was aware of everything going on in my life, and that as I drew nearer to him, I would feel his support.  When I thanked my roommate and went to my room, I grabbed my study journal and began to read in it.

Study Journals: personal scripture
        I consider my study journal to be personal scripture.  The insights and the knowledge found within came from the Spirit and therefore are revelations to me.  Using this knowledge, I often turn to my study journal as well as the scriptures.  I was reading in it and I came across an entry I had on 2 Nephi 32:9 and read "...ye must pray always, and not faint..."

Pray Always, and not Faint

        This is a precious gem that I have found myself revisiting again and again.  I find myself reflecting on the quality of my prayers every time I read this entry.  I know there have been times when my prayers have become wrote, "Thank you for the food and please bless it that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies, we say these things...." and I find that there is very little variation and no thought going into the prayer.  In these cases, when I am saying my prayers, my mind has fainted.  Sometimes I forget if I have said a prayer at all.  There are other times in the morning or evening, when I am saying my prayers, there have been times that I have fainted as well and fallen asleep during the prayer.  I tell myself in the journal that I must make sure that I am not getting into that habit of the lazy thirty second prayer, but that I need to patiently wait, ponder, listen, and focus, and look through the day for the hand of God in my life especially the times He has come to my aid.  In like manner I must not faint during the day, but offer a silent prayer of gratitude when I receive divine aid.

Vultures on the Highway through Life

         At times I have felt run down and ready to drop as I walked down the highway through life.  There are desert regions when things seem dismal and discouraging.   In the desert the vultures eat the carcass of animals that have died, but they won't touch the meat, until it has stopped moving.  The vultures have hovered above my head on this metaphorical highway, but they won't strike until I faint.  Therefore I must pray always, for the strength that I won't faint, that I can remain strong throughout these desert times without the gift of the Holy Ghost.  I look forward to that day when I can be baptized and receive that gift of all gifts. What a fantastic day that will be.

Until next time,

The Rainbow-plated Armadillo

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Airport Parable

          This is an older study journal entry I have from November 5, 2009.  I wrote this shortly after coming home early from my mission, which I will talk about in a future post.  I was sent home and disfellowshipped.  Having recently been through an airport, I drew several spiritual connections and mapped them out in this parable of the airport.  I thought I should share it.

 The Airport
        In an airport we have a security gate and the gate where the departure is.  Everyone that enters the security checkpoint has a destination.  Some have flights that leave sooner than others, but all have a departure time.
         On the way to the gate one may see shops of various kinds, restaurants to sit down and dine, gift shops that have various fascinations, and many other things.

         Oftentimes we find a walkway that takes us forward at a faster rate than we would [by] fighting the crowd. This walkway goes straight down the middle, bypassing the shops that try to lure away travelers.  Oftentimes our flight does not permit us to have time to explore these tourist traps.
         As we race along the speedway, we progress with leaps and bounds.  Occasionally we may see a stop that perks our interest.  When we do, we ask ourselves, "What time does my plane leave?  Do I have time to check it out?"
         Usually it is best to leave it alone and continue to our destination.  I think it is safe to say that one of the worst things to do is to stop walking, grab the rail and hurl yourself over the edge in a desperate attempt to explore the unknown.  Oftentimes, getting off of a moving object in such a way will cause one to sustain grave bodily harm and debilitating injury.
         In order to make it past the security gate, there is a set of standards that must be followed.  We must get rid of knives, guns, liquid in containers of more than 4 oz., and go through a detailed examination to ensure that there was sufficient preparation.

          Baptism is like the security checkpoint.  Once we are in, we head for our flight to Eternal Life.  Commandments are placed for us to progress faster and protect us from the spiritual traps that wait to rob us of our inheritance and only leave us carrying a greater burden that we will eventually throw away.
         At times we may spot a shop, a trap, whose slogans or appearance seems to draw us in.  The absolute worst thing we can do is depart from the safety of the commandments, hurl ourselves over those spiritual bounds the Lord has set, and break [our] leg in an attempt to satisfy a curiosity.  Doing such an act leaves us helpless, no longer able to walk or run.  We call out for help.  First responders can come and splint the leg, the priesthood leaders can give us spiritual crutches, and put a cast on our leg, but it usually takes time to heal.
        Such an event surly will harm us in our journey back home.  We cannot just hop back on [to the walkway], but must move on to the next opening.  It takes time and is painful.  The leg will surely heal, and with great effort we can get back on course, but much better it is that we just avoid, avoid, avoid!

      I was thinking about this and how I have hurled myself over the edge.  My splint is excommunication.  It is painful, and it definitely takes time to heal, but luckily my flight hasn't departed and I can keep working my way back to my walkway.  This walkway is defined not with a plastic rail, but an iron rail.  When I threw myself over the edge, I think it is safe to say that I broke both of my metaphorical legs.  It is incredibly painful and terribly difficult, however when a bone breaks, it grows back stronger, so as long as I keep working towards my goal, I will continue to strengthen.  I have always wondered why every person I have met who went through excommunication was always so darn spiritual.  I suppose it is because they were broken, and when they were healed, they grew back even stronger.  That is what is happening to me.  I may still slip from time to time, and my time may be reset, but I do not lose the knowledge that I have gained.  That sobriety remains with me.

       I do not know when my flight leaves.  My section could be called for boarding in a car crash tomorrow for all I know.  With this knowledge, there is no time for messing around.  I need to get right back up from every fall, grab my crutches, namely daily meaningful prayer and daily scripture study, and work my way back to the kiosk, where I can get my boarding pass, or clearance for baptism, go through the security gate and head on to Eternal Airlines where I will be able to have an Eternal family.

So, I just wanted to share that with you all.  I hope some of you will be able to get as much out of it as I do.

Until next time,

The Rainbow-plated Armadillo

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Trapped outside, dogs, and facing mistakes.

Trapped on the outside:

           While I was growing up I had a dog.  She was a beautiful Border Collie and Australian Shepherd mix.  She was a smart dog, sometimes a little too smart for her own good.  We had our backyard enclosed by a fence so she would be free to run around, however one day we found her in the front yard, sitting next to the gate as though she was begging to be let back in.  This was not a onetime thing, she began to frequently escape from the backyard on her own, but she was never able to get back in, she always had to wait for one of us to let her in.  We searched the entire yard to try and find how she was getting out, but we couldn't find anything.  She knew not to escape until we weren't looking so we had to set up a video camera to catch her in the act.
           There was a small gap in the fence that led into the neighbor's yard.  She somehow managed to squeeze through that gap, and then escape from the neighbor's yard, which was also encompassed by a fence.  We did not have a small yard, we were living on a 1/2 acre property with a modest house and a huge yard, but the outside world was always so tempting and exciting that she had to sneak out without our protection.  After she would sneak out, she wouldn't be able to get back in.  She went from being trapped inside, to being trapped outside.  Once she was out, she would run around a bit, then sit down next to the gate into the back yard and wait for us to find her.  It wouldn't take long after escaping for her to miss the backyard.  In the backyard she had food, water, and protection from the world.  On the outside there was the danger of the dog catcher, or animal control, as well as cars that could hit her, or people who could dog-nap her.  She was at this for weeks before we set up the camera, then we were able to fix the hole and thus fix the problem.  After that, she was safe again.

So why do I tell this story?  
            It seems as though this has been a lot like my life.  I have always wanted to explore beyond what I should. I feel like I can relate to my dog, the fence in my case being the church and the commandments, within which I can receive my spiritual food and water, which blessings show up in my vitality and everyday life.  However, the outside world is so appealing, that I want to explore it a little, so I step outside the clearly defined area of safety to brave that mysterious world all on my own only to find that coming back in isn't quite as easy as I thought it would be, and thus, I find myself trapped outside, looking in.  That is kind of how I feel right now, I am waiting at the gate, waiting for that time when my owner will find me and let me back in.  In the meantime, I am not able to receive those blessings that I can find within the LDS enclosure, at least not in full.

Venting, good for the soul?

            I feel like I am jumping at the handle, trying to let myself back in, but I don't have anyone to help.  Whatever happened to the baptismal covenant?  Mosiah 18:8-9 where it says: "...willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light...mourn with those that mourn...comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places, that ye may be in, even until death" That is a promise that everyone makes when they get baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  That is the promise that I made, and I feel like I did a pretty good job at it.  Now that I am not currently a member, I am the one that is more in need of having my burden borne, being comforted, mourned with, and having people witness to me.  However, I am not getting that at all.  This is a big frustration for me, I feel like I am fighting this battle on my own and this is making me feel like the Church is just a skeleton organization where I can come to know God and one day live with him again, but it is something I have to do by myself.  It does not feel like a church where I am at because the only way that I am able to get to know someone is if I put forth ALL the effort.  I feel like until I get rebaptized, I will not be able to find a truly reciprocated friendship in this ward.
          I went to a munch and mingle, linger longer, or snack activity (lots of different names) right after sacrament in my ward a few weeks ago, and introduced myself to some members and said "I don't come very often, but I am trying to come more."  One person said, "It's great to have you here."  The other six just ignored the comment, then after that, they talked between themselves.  Probably the most frustrating of them all is my roommate.  He is a returned missionary and he still keeps his name tag on the outer sleeve of his scriptures, I'm not sure if it is to remind him or to show off, but I know that I told him that I was excommunicated and that I was trying to get rebaptized and he said "OK" and that's it.  I didn't even know how to process that.  I know that I'm not a member right now, but when someone calls me and tells me they have been struggling with knowing that God is there, I put down what I am doing, even if I don't have the time I make the time to talk with him and give him ideas on how he can better know his father in heaven.
         Not every ward is like this.  I have lived in four states and I'm currently in Utah, it seems as though there is a culture here that is wrapped up and intertwined with the church so someone who is outside the church or is not active is not just out of the church, but they are actually outside of the culture as well.  Being outside of the culture makes a person automatically foreign and therefore I feel like in Utah, the culture has made it so that unless I'm attending each week and participating, or have a calling, there is no reason to interact with me.  Part of socialization is performing the callings, why would I need to be friends with my neighbors when I already know the rest of the block?  That is my view anthropologically as to why it is this way.  I just wish there was a bigger emphasis on reaching out to those in the ward and those not in the ward.  I wish there was more of an emphasis on going to the rescue.

I get knocked down... but I get up again...right?

           About a week ago, I saw a Dalmatian wandering the streets of the city I now live in.  There is very little grass, and lots of traffic, and the dog looked very frazzled.  I wanted to help it to find its owners, but I was almost late for class so I had to say a quick prayer for that dog to safely find its owner.  I saw a lady about a block later who had a leash in her hand, I pointed her in the direction I saw her dog.  I kept looking as long as I could; I think she got the dog in time before something bad happened.

          I feel like that dog right now.  I'm frazzled and broken, and I am once again sitting outside that gate looking in longingly.  A couple nights ago I made a big mistake, one I have made before.
          I had Spring Break last week at my university.  This was great in that it helped me get caught up with my schoolwork, but it was also very lonely.  My fraternity wasn't meeting, I didn't have classes, my roommates rarely talk to me, and when they do, it seems mostly logistical, so I felt very alone.  I went to my support groups, but they didn't seen enough, I started this blog, it helped a bit, but I still felt alone.  I decided that what I needed was a friend that I could be open to about all of this, someone who liked to rock climb, that I could go climbing with each week or go to the climbing gym with.  I knew I shouldn't have gone online looking, because the people on there are not looking for just friends.  As I debated going onto the site, I thought of how if I found someone on there, I could cuddle up and watch a movie with them, then I thought, but then it might lead to more, but I told myself that I have done enough work that I could hold my ground.  I would be able to resist anything happening.  I have to admit, having SSA, I am not repulsed by the idea of more happening, deep within, I almost wanted it, but I felt that I would be able to resist and I would be able to keep more from happening...
         Earlier this week, I found a guy to climb with, we watched a movie together and I wasn't able to hold my ground and fell metaphorically flat on my face.  So now I am at that crucial moment where I must decide if I get right back up, or if I hold my nose and roll around in a filth for a few moments before getting back up most addicts familiar with the cycle would call this the binge.  For me the binge stems from the story that if I'm going to fall on my face, I want to actually enjoy it.  The problem with that is summed up in Proverbs 27:20 "Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied."  There is always something that isn't quite satisfying and therefore I want to try and adjust it so that I can get that satisfied.  It is like an itch that when you scratch it, it feels good for about 10 seconds then itches even more.  Another factor is that it had been three months, so that is three months gone.  I have had people tell me that it is three months of sobriety that I have, but that doesn't change the fact that I lost that time.  It starts over... I don't care if I have three months or eleven months, it doesn't matter at all if I have to start over.  So this is where the second facet of the binge comes from.  The story, "I might as well have a little fun before I start sobriety again."  It is difficult when it feels like I have literally nothing left to lose.
          Then I have to remember, that every day is just that, another day.  If I wait a couple weeks, then that's a couple weeks longer I have to wait to be baptized.  This is what drives me to want to burn the bridges and get back up on the wagon.  This is what drives me to cut my losses and redouble my efforts to get rebaptized

Looking at the gate from a deeper perspective
           And so now I find myself once more staring at the gate and waiting for my owners.  That gate is baptism I will only be able to make it back through when I can show that I will not wander outside the fence again.  This time is going to be different; I am going to work more closely with my bishop.  I'm going to see if I can have a weekly checkup, just if I am doing well, or if I'm not.  Moving forwards or backwards, because life is like a downward escalator...well....I'll save that one for another post.  If I get my bishop more involved, then I will have another person I can be accountable to.  Unlike my dog, where I had to block the hole, I will always know my favorite spot to leave the yard and I must take care of myself so that I can block it for myself because nobody will block it for me.

           This life is a journey, and it has more than one path, just like there are an infinite number of ways that you can get home from work (for instance driving to the airport, flying to Disneyland going on rides, flying home and driving the back roads home.  That is a way because you ended at home, but it is definitely not the best.  That is how there is an infinite number of ways to get home) there are a number of paths in life constantly branching out.  Sometimes the journey will have a road that backtracks a little, and while I feel I have lost some ground, the knowledge that I have gained is not lost.  So, a little more frustrated than usual, but pretty confident about the future, I will say goodbye.

Thanks for reading.
Until next time,

The Rainbow-plated Armadillo

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Parable of the Barnacle

              When I was on my mission, my mission president suggested that I write down my parables when the ideas came to me.  This is one I wrote about a year ago that came to my mind earlier today.  I have always found parables to be helpful.  I think my mind just associates ideas and principles better this way.

               This parable I call the parable of the barnacle.  I wrote it when I was going through a particularly difficult time and hadn't been making the best choices.  I was trying to decide whether or not to talk with my bishop about what I had been doing but I knew that doing so would most likely result in me losing my membership.  I thought about how life was filled with all sorts of ups and downs, and how everything seemed to be happening in waves, now here is how my mind works; I then thought of ocean waves, then I thought of the beach and the rocks in the tide pools, then remembered how ugly the barnacles were, then I pondered on that and how they are kind of like sin, and I came up with this: 

The Parable of the Barnacle
                Barnacles will attach themselves most frequently on objects that are idle and still. Like sin, we cannot always tell that they are there from the outward appearance, but they slow the vessel down and severely disfigure it. The best way to prevent barnacles is to just keep moving, but sometimes we struggle to endure to the end, everyone sins from time to time and when they do, they get one of the spiritual barnacles attaching to them. The barnacles will continue to grow as a horrible disfigurement. Once a barnacle has been obtained it must be taken off manually and with hard work. Our spiritual barnacles can be removed only by the chisel of repentance. The longer we sit in the waters of sin, the more barnacles we collect. The more barnacles we have, the harder it can be to repent, but there are no barnacles that can resist the chisel and the chisel of the atonement is sufficient to remove all barnacles. Once they are gone, we need to continue to keep our vessel clean by moving forward and onward, enduring to the end in our journey through the seas of life until we reach that glorious shore of Eternal Life.

                There is always hope through the Atonement.  I am still learning that now.  I haven't always believed that it could be for me, I think even now I am still working on fully believing that.  I have always known that the Atonement works; I have seen it in the lives of others.  I saw it impact those I taught on my mission. I taught them how to access the Atonement, I watched as they prayed for the first time, and I listened to their experiences as they reflected on the things they had done in the past that they regretted, prayed for forgiveness, and felt them all taken away.  I have always known the Atonement was real; however I never really understood how to use it in my own life.  I felt like I was out of His reach, that I had to try harder than others to access it.  This is a story I still struggle with today.  I understand it is not true, but to know it isn't a true story is different from being able to fully believe it.  That is the step that I am on now, realizing that Christ suffered and died for me.  I already knew He did that for everyone else, but believing he did it for me I felt was a completely different story.

                I do know the Book of Mormon is true; I even owe my life to it.  I believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the same church that Christ set up restored once again to the earth.  I believe we have a prophet today, and that he is called of God, and I believe that Joseph Smith was God's prophet called to restore His church in these days.  I know all of these things and that is what keeps me going.  I can't turn my back on something that I believe in, and I look forward to the day that I will be able to once again enjoy all the blessings that come with being a member of God's church.

Until next time,
The Rainbow-plated Armadillo

Friday, March 15, 2013

The First Post, Although Definitely not the Beginning of the Journey.

        This is my very first blog.  I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to write, but I felt that it was important to start one to document my journey and show others that no matter how dark it may seem, and how hopeless things may become, things can always get better, and they will, with effort.  I really like the picture here.  I took this in Wyoming a couple years back.  There were storm clouds and it dropped some heavy rain, but you can see a gap in the clouds where you can see calm and peaceful clouds.  This was taken at sunset as you can see in the lower right, it almost looks like fire.  My journey has been kind of like this picture, there have been moments of darkness, like the black ground, there have been moments where I was hammered by the rain of life, where everything felt ominous and I wasn't sure if I could go on.  There have been times where I felt my whole world falling apart, and it seemed as though my dreams and everything I was working for was being burnt to the ground in a never-ending fire of chaos.  However, more recently, I have caught that glimmer of hope, and have been able to see through those clouds and catch a glimpse of the peace and the calm that has always been there, waiting behind those clouds.

        It isn't until I went through the inferno, and dredged through the floods that I was able to look back and see the progress I have made, and the things I have learned.  By looking back now, I am not as overwhelmed by what lies ahead in the future.  

         I am 24 years old and I am a full-time college student.  Although the state I live in is rather conservative, my school leans a little more on the liberal side.  This has made things really difficult as I will elucidate in the future.  I went through a time where I had no hope.  I felt lost.  I was attracted to guys, I felt like that is what I had to do, but I didn't want that.  I have always wanted a wife, and kids, (I know, people say "you can have that with a guy, just adopt") I have always thought that was a little unfair to the kids to not have a mother and a father since they both play an important role in the raising and nurturing of a child.  On top of that, I have never, and still don't, see myself being able to live in a family relationship with another guy. Conceptually I have never been able to see it.  For a while, I thought I was going to be forced into it and then I would go from one bad relationship to another because having a monogamous, and healthy, relationship with another man is not wired into my biology.

         Another big factor in my journey has been my faith.   I still identify with LDS or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints aka Mormons; however I am not currently a member.  I am excommunicated.  So then the questions I get are, "Why do you still try to go if you are excommunicated?  They rejected you; you should just be true to yourself.  Why do you still care?"  The answer to that is because I still believe in the church.  I have strongly believed in it ever since I was born again and accepted Jesus into my life at age 8 when I made the choice to be baptized.  My faith is like others out there who are Jewish, or Catholic, or even Muslim.  I believe it.  I believe it to the point that I don't have any doubts, (I know, I tried to find them when I hit a low in August) I really believe the church is true and because of that, I couldn't just go to a gay-friendly church, I couldn't just renounce the Mormon church as so many others do.  I was disfellowshipped about three and a half years ago, and have been excommunicated for almost a year.  I hope to be able to keep you updated as I get rebaptized back into the church, and get my temple blessings restored once again.

         I will touch a little more on my history and the journey I have made thus far in future posts.  There is far too much to have in one post.

          What I will say, is that the people I have met, and the knowledge about myself and my self-awareness almost makes the whole journey worth it.  As I continue to progress, my relationship with God continues to grow.  Ultimately it is He who is guiding my journey as I offer him my hand.  I know for a fact that I cannot 'pray away the gay' but I do know that I can pray for God to help me understand it and its place in my life.  As I learn to understand it, I can see more as a part of myself and not a burden, It is something I can acknowledge and yet understand that it does not compose my full self.  My attraction to guys is a very small part of who I am, and I shouldn't let it decide what I do with my life.  I am still learning and internalizing this and I will keep everyone updated on my journey.

          Just know.  There is hope, there is change.  Ignorant people say that we choose to have these attractions.  I didn't choose it...however; I do have a choice as to what to do with it.  That is where the choice comes in.  In that respect, everyone has a choice.

Till next time,

The Rainbow-plated Armadillo