Saturday, April 20, 2013

What I'd Tell Her

It’s really been six months? It’s hard to believe that six months ago I put myself out there, wrote that initial blog post about my sexuality, and shared it on Facebook. I wanted to do something special for my six-month post and it finally came to me as I was on the way back from a North Star guys’ night last weekend.

While driving back with David and another North Star friend, I was reminded of an experience I had while I was still in Toronto… in the very late night of August 20 or the very early morning of August 21, 2010, I told Elder Call about my SSA. In the evening of August 21 I think it was, this experience happened: some members from the Heart Lake ward asked us to take some clothes to the thrift store for them, so we did. As we were dropping them off, Elder Call started talking to the girl that we gave them too. As he started talk to this girl about God, she responded by telling us that she hated God, because He’d made her gay.

With my coming out experience so fresh in my mind, having happened less than 24 hours before, I was emotionally vulnerable and I really felt for this girl who felt betrayed and abandoned by God. I wanted to be able to tell her that I knew how she felt. I wanted to be able to assure her of God’s love for her… but being so early on my own journey, I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t have the emotional stamina to be completely authentic with her either.

Looking back on the experience recently, I took myself back in my mind… If I could go back to that day at that thrift store with the assurance I have now and with the things I have learned and experienced in the past (almost) three years, what would I tell her? This list is only a beginning of the things I’ve learned and experienced… but this is what I’d like to tell her (and I’m going to write it as though I’m talking to her).

  • “God loves you! You don’t have to stop being attracted to other women to earn His love. He loves you now as you are. He longs for you to follow Him, but no matter what you feel or what you do, He will always love you.”
  • “Being attracted to women does NOT mean that God hates you or that He has abandoned you. He gave you this experience because He loves you.”
  • “You might feel abandoned at times… and at times I feel like I’m abandoned for days or weeks on end… but He will never abandon you.”
  • “Sometimes it’s easy to feel anger toward God because of the trials that we have, and at times SSA is a beast of a trial, but like any trial, it can bring you closer to God.”
  • “The Atonement of Jesus Christ can help you! Though it may not take the SSA away at once or ever in this life, you can find comfort and peace through it.”
  • “You can be happy. No matter what trials you have in life, you can be happy. Whether you like being gay or not, you can be happy. Happiness is a choice. It may be a hard choice to make, but it’s a choice.”
  • “If you let it, your attractions to other women can refine you and turn you into someone even stronger, more loving, and more capable in life.”

There is probably so much more I could say. I have learned a lot since that day (August 21, 2010) about what my SSA means and what it doesn’t mean. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to love myself and to love others. I’ve learned a lot, but I’m also still learning. I’m not expert, but I’m not sure such a thing exists. Instead, I’m a disciple, wanting to testify to the world about the love that I know I have felt from God, even if it’s hard for me to let in sometimes.

Sometimes it’s very abstract thing to say, but I honestly do believe the phrase that I like to end my posts with and that is the final thing I want to add to my list: “Through the infinite Atonement of Jesus Christ, it gets better… even more so, you can be better.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

CTM Reunion Fears

The day before conference I had the amazing opportunity to go up to Bountiful for my second annual mission reunion. I’m always excited to see companions (all two of them), missionaries I served around, my mission president, and his wife. However, both years I’ve also had fear. Not fear of how I’d be seen, since hardly anyone there knew me. In fact… that’s the fear I had, not being known. Being lonely. A fear that carries over into other parts of my life as well.

Fortunately, that fear was not realized at the reunion.

First, before I tell you about that fear, let me tell you about our celebrity guest: Elder M. Russell Ballard. Yup. We had an apostle at our reunion. Why? Well one reason is that he loves Toronto missionaries. And the other reason is that his daughter was our mission mom (mission president’s wife). Just a few of my notes from what Elder Ballard said to us, which would apply to any of us, no matter where or if you served: (1) We have to stand up for what’s right, even if it’s not culturally acceptable. (2) Who are you? And do you really know that? (3) John 15:13… He has called you His friend—D&C 93:45. (4) The Lord has chosen you and who are YOU to doubt Him? (5) If He were here tonight, He would call you His friend. (6) The apostles pray for you each week. (7) Nothing is as important as your testimony of the Savior.

Now for some notes from what my mission mom said… I don’t remember if she actually said this or if I just had this impression, but this is what I wrote down: “Your work was not wasted. You were not a waste in the Toronto Mission.” She was speaking of when she’d been able to speak to a group of Toronto missionaries at her father’s mission reunion and was able to tell them of how the church as grown since they were there, decades ago. However, I was also reminded of the few lives that I was able to touch while I was there.

Now words from my hero… President Brower: Continue to study Preach My Gospel. Be a Latter-day Saint; don’t just do Latter-day Saint things. Continually repent; so what if you slip up? Get up, remember where you’re going, and move on. EVERY righteous thing you do is an opportunity to be sanctified. Stay converted and PROVE it!

Instead of feeling fear and loneliness, I was fed spiritually by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and my mission president and his wife. Besides, that it was just amazing to be there with a house full of missionaries that love Ontario just like I do. I was able to see Elder Call, my beloved trainer and the first person I could confide ANYTHING in—and he was my brother. And that was only the beginning. I was able to see so many signs of my Father’s love, just like my stars, giving me hope and peace.

A tender moment came to me when I was able to talk to Elder Olmstead, the missionary who took my place after I left Heart Lake, about the investigators that I had left with him. It was the first time I’d spoken to Elder Olmstead, other than a brief phone call just before I got to the airport on September 15, 2010. I thanked him for getting Tek and Fuman ready for baptism. I thanked him for helping Dale get the rest of the way into the fold of God. This missionary who I barely knew took care of the people I love dearly when I was broken and forced to return home.

I was also blessed to talk to one of my old zone leaders, Elder McKee. A couple weeks before, I’d briefly seen him on campus during my intense episode of depression. I was with David at the time and not in the emotional state to chat, so I very briefly waved and walked on by. He remembered that day though at the reunion. The kind spirit that he is, he made sure that I was doing okay, because he’d seen the despair on my face.

In addition to Elder Olmstead, I was also privileged to meet Elder Rumsey, the missionary that Elder Call had trained after me and Elder Olmstead. These two men would be my “brothers” in mission slang (“father” and “son” would be “trainer” and “greenie”). Somehow just the common bond I felt with them, having both served and strived with Elder Call just like I had tried my best to do. This “family reunion” hit somewhere special in my heart.

Somehow I ended up meeting a missionary there who had come home early, like me. He’d had similar fears of feeling alone and lonely. The commonality I felt with that missionary and his desire to do what is right, despite how hard it is coming home early (and it could have been SO easy to have left the church after I came home), was inspiring. Similar to my experiences with SSA, my experiences with other missionaries who have come home early has been a way of being able to find support. They understand the pain I feel when people say “Oh, you did what the Lord required” or “You’re still an RM”. They understand the pains I feel when I wonder if it would have been better for me not to go in the first place. This support system is invaluable to me.

Finally my brief one-on-one talk with President Brower… the things he said to me are too sacred to share, but I know I am so blessed to have had a mission president who cares about me, even now, over 2.5 years later. I love him and I am grateful for all he continues to do for me.

To close, I just want to close with 1 John 4:18: Perfect love (like my mission president and those missionaries showed to me) casteth out fear. And the ultimate source of that love is the Savior, Jesus Christ.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Conference April 2013

Just a summary of things I learned or felt during General Conference April 2013 (NOTE: I may not include much or anything from some of the Seventies’ talks). My favorite talks have two asterisks (**) before the speaker's name and the link is provided to the talk.

Saturday Morning:
Boyd K. Packer – Do what you can to keep your home safe from the adversary. Learn about the Gift of the Holy Ghost and the Atonement. Do not hate the sinner. You cannot choose the consequences to your choices. The world cannot change the laws of God.
Dean M. Davies – Helaman 5:12. Prepare for the “natural disasters” of life. You wouldn’t knowingly build your house on a false foundation.
Elaine S. Dalton – In a demoralizing world, we need people who will stand as witnesses of God at all times.
**Craig A. Cardon – He WANTS to forgive you. You don’t need to be perfect all at once. Be willing to forgive yourself. He understands that you have weaknesses.
M. Russell Ballard – A family needs a husband AND a wife. Don’t forget to do the things that keep a testimony going. If you feel your testimony is less than it should be, then turn to the Savior and look for His living water.
Henry B. Eyring The Savior wants to be your Friend. Remember and hang onto the times you’ve felt close to the Savior. Pray for those who are astray.

Saturday Afternoon:
**Richard G. Scott – Each of us need a place of refuge. Christ is the source of peace. Good habits lead to good circumstances. What if you referred to the scriptures as often as you sent a text? Love the good attributes of those who are astray. We become like Him one step at a time.
Quentin L. Cook – You can find peace in the storm. D&C 121:7-8. To believe in God is to believe that all the rules are fair. True peace ONLY comes from the Savior.
Stanley G. Ellis – God has shown us how to live. There is an authorized WAY and TIME to express love. Ask where the Lord needs you, not what you need.
David A. Bednar – The Law of Chastity can only be understood in terms of the Plan of Salvation. Both men and women are needed for the Plan of Salvation.
Russell M. Nelson – Our living God is a loving God. You have a purpose here on the Earth. You have the tools to accomplish that mission.

Priesthood Session:
Robert D. Hales – The church will remain constant, no matter where the world moves. We are not authorized to negotiate the Plan of Salvation. Sometimes we must take the heat for the truth. Nehemiah 6:3. You can withstand persecution by standing with Christ.
Tad R. Callister – Increased vision leads to increased motivation. If you want revelation, do your homework. What can you do to prepare your sons to be missionaries?
David L. Beck – Help those around you feel loved. Mocking and teasing have NO place among the saints.
**Dieter F. Uchtdorf – Satan would like to define you by your sins and your weaknesses. We are faltering toddlers, but He loves us anyways. He is not seeking to punish us. Imperfection is not an excuse not to grow. The church was not made for perfect people. The Atonement is not meant to make us the same. We are to be united in our testimonies, but we are all different. You are not overlooked or unwanted by your Father. You are needed in the church. “You are important. You are loved. You are needed.”
Henry B. Eyring – You can expect the Lord to provide a path for you. Your priesthood duties are there to sanctify you.
Thomas S. Monson – Study the scriptures with diligence! Plan your life with purpose! Teach the truth with testimony! Serve the Lord with love! Have you increased in Christ-like attributes today?

Sunday Morning:
**Dieter F. Uchtdorf – Darkness exists, but you don’t have to dwell there. Healing comes when we move away from the darkness and move toward the light. The perfect place to start is where you are RIGHT NOW. The darkness will fade because it cannot exist in the presence of light.
Neil L. Anderson – No force in the world can stop the work of God.
L. Whitney Clayson – The commandments are not a buffet. Do all you can to prepare for marriage!
L. Tom Perry – Agency is the greatest gift we have from God. The commandments are being disregarded by the world. The family is deteriorating. As we give up fidelity in marriage, we destroy society. Sin will ALWAYS be sin.
Thomas S. Monson – You can play with fire, but you can’t control where it spreads or how fast it burns. The great test of this life is obedience.

Sunday Afternoon:
**Jeffrey R. HollandMark 9:24. When facing the challenge of faith, the father asserts his strength first. REMEMBER YOUR STRENGTH before looking at your weakness. When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by acknowledging what you lack faith in. Ask questions if you need to. Questions are NOT a sin. Be kind regarding human frailty, your own frailty and those around you. God has ALWAYS dealt with imperfect people. You need never apology for “only believing”. Mark 5:36.
Dallin H. Oaks – John 15:19. You are to follow the Savior at ALL TIMES. Pray for guidance. Love your enemies. Forgive those who hurt you.
Enrique Falabella – Anything less than a temple marriage has an expiration date. Show love and affection for those that you love!
D. Todd Christofferson – The Atonement pays the debt that justice owes to us.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


While I was serving in Toronto, Elder Call (my trainer) had this little quirk (well, he had more than this one, but this was one of them). Randomly (or so it seemed) he would get overly excited and ask to borrow my camera (he tended to lose his) to take a picture of something (a license plate, a mail box, etc). I was completely confused as to what he was doing for quite a while. I think we were into our second transfer together before I learned what it was. There was something each of those license plates, mail boxes, and whatever else had in common: 444.

One of Elder Call’s favorite scriptures is Alma 44:4 (444): “Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith.” A little background on this scripture: Moroni and his army are fighting Zerahemnah and they finally have him cornered. Moroni, not being one who enjoyed killing, pleaded with Zerahemnah to surrender. However, Zerahemnah would not give up; even if they left then, Zerehemnah told Moroni that they would return and that was not good enough for Moroni. In their argument, Moroni bore his testimony of the power of God in helping them to overpower Zerahemnah (hence verse 4) and in the end Moroni’s army did force Zerahemnah’s army into a surrender.

I remember one day that Elder Call and I were tracting, knocking doors. Something someone on the street had said had set him off (which was not easy) and he was left in a bad mood. I remember feeling like I should tell him that I had a good feeling about that street. As it turned out, we got no new contacts from that street, no appointments, and no outward success. However, by the time we were done, Elder Call was more cheerful. On our way back to our car, he pointed out a van to me that had 444 in its license plate. That little three-digit number was his “sign” that God was watching over him and that God loved him.

I was reminded of that day a couple weeks ago. I had a bad episode of depression and ended up spending the majority of the day with my friend David. I remember a question that David posed to me that day and it reminded me of this: How does God show you He loves you? For David, it was through rain. When it rained, he was reminded that God loved him. For Elder Call, it was 444. Whenever he saw a price tag or a mailbox with a 444 on it, it was a reminder that God was caring for him. I’ve thought about that question: What “sign” does God use with me to show me He loves me? Not as “proof” per se, but as a reminder on a bad day.

I’m still thinking on it and I’m still not exactly sure. One that I’ve thought of is stars. I can’t fully explain why, but it has to do with a passage in a book called “The Brothers” by Chris Stewart. The book takes place in the pre-mortal life and the passage I’m referring to is near the end. The Father is talking to four of His children shortly before they are born. Naturally, these four have some fears about going to Earth and remembering nothing of Him or their lives before. One of the instructions He gives them is, on clear summer nights, to look at the sky and notice the stars and the moon. He tells them that as they do that they will remember, somewhere deep in their spirits, that they are part of an eternal family and an eternal plan.

I was reading this book back in the fall of 2010, just after I’d come home from Toronto. I felt lonely and confused. I was in a new ward in Provo and my best friends were scattered literally around the country and the world. I read this passage about the stars and the moon while in the Rec Room and then, as it was getting late, I decided to head slowly back toward my apartment. Outside, I took a moment to ponder this passage and I looked up at the sky. It was cloudy and I couldn’t see any stars. I said a silent prayer asking for the Lord to show me just one star. Just one sign of His love. As I petitioned Him, I saw the clouds part just slightly. Just enough for me to see one shimmering star in the darkness. One little light that said, “I love you, Spencer.”

Two and a half years later, I’ll sometimes be out at night after a bad day. I’ll look up at the sky and see maybe only a couple stars… but enough to remind me that there is a bigger plan than what I can currently see. And Someone up there loves me.

PS: I finished this post at 4:44 PM and those who know me know that I don’t believe in coincidence.

PPS: What is your "sign" of God's love for you?