Sunday, August 18, 2019

Spiritual Nudges

Below is the text of a talk I gave at my stake conference last night. 

I am an optimist by nature. In spiritual terms, I was given the gift of hope. While I believe that in my case much of the hope I experience is indeed a gift from my Heavenly Parents, it is also the result of many experiences. As the hymn Be Still, My Soul beautifully teaches: “Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake / To guide the future as he has the past / Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake / All now mysterious shall be bright at last.”

At the age of 30 it felt like my life was over. How could I ever be happy as a gay Latter-day Saint? The future didn’t just feel mysterious, it felt bleak and hopeless. I spent some precious moments with my parents discussing my options and much time praying and searching the scriptures. If you had told me then, five years ago, that I’d be where I am now and doing what I’m doing, and that I’d be loving life more than ever before, I would have said you were crazy. A happy, thriving life just didn’t seem possible. There was no big revelation. No moment when my future was unfolded before my eyes. As the Lord said: “I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little…” (2 Nephi 28:30). My path has been guided by small nudges of the Spirit, often facilitated by the counsel of loved ones, that pushed me in the right direction.

Almost three years ago I was beginning the final year of a PhD program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I started looking for jobs as a Spanish professor which is what I had trained to do. Every time I searched for jobs I felt sick to my stomach. Then one day my friend Reyna asked me to proofread a letter of intent she had written for a master’s in social work program. As I read the letter I felt an undeniable nudge from the Spirit to also pursue a master’s in social work. It was odd and unexpected. I drove two hours to the Gilbert, AZ temple to seek inspiration and felt the Spirit confirm within those sacred walls what I had already felt in my home—I needed to do a master’s in social work at BYU.

It was a very embarrassing thing to do, to get a PhD in one field and then immediately get a master’s in another. People accused me (in jest, I hope) of being an eternal student and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. But that wasn’t it at all. I was simply obeying what I had felt prompted to do.

The last two years since I started and finished my MSW at BYU have been two of the most remarkable years of my life. The experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the things I have learned are well worth the embarrassment I felt, the rigorous assignments, the boring readings, and the tuition I paid. God guided me to the place I needed to be. As Proverbs 3 teaches: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all they ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

In August 2017, the week before I moved to Provo, the Church expanded who was eligible to volunteer as a temple ordinance worker. The expansion included single men over 30 like me. I had wanted to be a temple worker for years, but had always rationalized that I was too busy and would do it later. At the age of 33 I called my dad who had spent 11 years as an ordinance worker in the Seattle temple. He is an incredibly pragmatic man so when I asked him if I should work in the temple while also doing a full-time master’s program at BYU I expected him to say, “You don’t have time right now. Focus on your studies. You can be a temple worker later.” But that’s not what he said. He went
into teaching mode and instructed me, “Ben, God can do anything. He can make time elastic if He needs to. If you put Him first you will be able to do everything you need to do and more. You don’t have the time to notwork in the temple.” I listened to my father’s nudge and spent 20 months as an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple. Tuesday evenings became one of my favorite times of the week. There were multiple weeks that I walked up to the temple thinking that I would tell my shift coordinator that I needed to be released because I didn’t have time, and then while I served the Spirit would nudge me to stay. And I’d walk out of the temple with my shoulders squared, invigorated and ready to face another week. I needed that time in the temple. My dad was exactly right.

As the Savior taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” That is a comforting and humorously delivered teaching. God takes care of birds and so he’ll surely take care of us because we’re better than birds. So if you ever feel bad about yourself, just remember that you’re better than birds.

When we listen to inspired Church leaders we will often feel spiritual nudges. I was recently reading President Nelson’s talk from the priesthood session of General Conference about repentance. He encouraged, “Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance—of doing and being a little better each day.” He continued, “The Lord does not expect perfection from us at this point in our eternal progression. But He does expect us to become increasingly pure.” When I read these lines I thought, what can I do to be a little better today? And then the answer came—make your bed. Such a small nudge, but I committed to do it.

The next morning I woke up barely lucid which is pretty normal for me (I’m not a morning person at all), but I remembered my goal. I was in a rush to get ready and get out of the house, but I said to myself, “No, you committed to making your bed.” So I did. And I’ve done it every day since. My bedroom could hardly be considered tidy, but it’s tidier than it was before. And that little step is making me a better person, if only because I’m following through on a personal commitment. And the next nudge will do even more.

God will nudge us to serve each other. Last fall I was doing an internship at LDS Family Services in Salt Lake. The commute was long and I was gone for most of the day. One morning I made my lunch and accidently left in on the kitchen counter. That day was harder than usual and I was feeling inadequate at work. And then I realized I’d left my lunch at home. I kicked myself for being so careless and felt so stupid. One of my coworkers was there when I noticed I hadn’t brought my lunch. Without telling me, she drove ten minutes to her apartment, made me a sandwich, filled up a bag with baby carrots, and grabbed a bag of cookies. At lunch time Amy gave me this sweet gift. Making lunch for me was such a small thing, but it changed my day. She had felt nudged by the Spirit to do a good deed. And while the lunch literally fed me, what really fed me was knowing that I was seen, and noticed, and cared for.

I’m in the middle of reading Saints, the newly released history of the Church, and I came across a story that was just bonkers. Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards were on a mission in England. Heber was married, and Willard, despite being 33 was not (I can totally relate). Heber met and baptized a woman named Jennetta Richards (no relation to Willard Richards). Heber wrote Willard in a letter, “I baptized your wife today.” Quite a bold thing for him to say about someone Willard had never met. But things only get bolder. Willard later met Jennetta in person and while walking to a Church meeting with her said, “Richards is a good name. I never want to change it. Do you, Jennetta?” She replied, “No, I do not. And I think I never will.” They soon got married. A bold statement from Heber was the nudge that helped to unite Willard and Jennetta.

The people who have nudged me in the right direction have altered the course of my life, and I’m so grateful for them. But just because someone nudges you in a direction doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. I’ve had people recommend wives and careers and housing and lots of life choices that I didn’t take. The Holy Ghost will confirm to us when counsel or guidance or a simple nudge are the right course. The key is to be connected enough to Heaven that we can discern which direction to take.

Our Exemplar, Jesus Christ, showed us how to follow promptings. He said over and over again that He was about His Father’s business and doing His Father’s will. I’ve been keeping up with the Come, Follow Me reading this year which has greatly blessed my life. I’ve learned things and noticed things that I’d never seen before.
In Matthew 26 the Savior is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” And then a few verses later He prayed a second time, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, they will be done.” And then two verses later it says that the Savior gave the same prayer a third time. I had never noticed that the Savior made that plea and promise to His Father three separate times. It’s very human to not want to do the hard thing, but it’s a Christlike attribute to do it anyway.

This example of the Savior and His ability to choose to do the Father’s will, even though it would be hard, gives me courage. Because God has asked me to do some truly hard things. And when times of decision come, and I feel nudged in different directions, I try to connect with God and go in the direction that He is calling me to go.

I have seen a lot of this beautiful world and interacted with some of the finest people in it. I’ve had a life filled with joy and I often marvel at how I got to be so lucky. I’ve had some truly stellar moments. But the best feeling I’ve ever had is when I ascertain the will of God and then have the courage to do it. That is truly the best feeling.

I testify that God is watching over us. He knows our needs. I believe that at some future day, and maybe not until the next life, I’ll look back on my life and say, “Oh, so that’s how He did it. That’s how God shaped me into the person He wanted me to be.” Our Heavenly Parents have guided our pasts and They will surely guide our futures. All that is now mysterious will make perfect sense. Jesus Christ lives. He is our Savior. And all of this is possible through Him. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, August 5, 2019

12 Years Since Coming Out

August 12th marks the 12 year anniversary of my first coming out. I’ve told that story hundreds of times at Ally Nights, in one on one conversations, in trainings for church leaders, in firesides, lessons at church, class presentations, and on my blog. I’ve told it so many times that it’s become a story I tell and the actual memory of the event has become a little obscured by the constant retelling. 

Craig and I from that summer
As August 12th approaches I started to wonder what that day was actually like in 2007. And if I had a video recording of that conversation, would it match how I tell the story? So I pulled out my journal and read what I wrote that day. Memories flooded in as I read my own handwritten words. I remembered the orange glow of the streetlight as we sat on the grass and talked. I remembered how about 15 minutes after coming out we started walking home. Mitch and Craig shifted the conversation back to more standard topics and I couldn't understand how they could do that so fast because my world had just changed so much and I still had so much I wanted to say. 

I’m glad I took the time to write out what happened that day so that these memories could be preserved and rekindled. It was also nice to see that my telling matches what I recorded about the experience. Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day:  

August 12, 2007 Sunday

I’m going to write about something that I hadn’t planned on writing about. I’ll write more about it later. For as long as I can remember I’ve been more attracted to boys than to girls. It sucks and I’d change things if I could. I will never act on it. I’ve been struggling with it on my own for a while and I decided that that wasn’t healthy and that I should tell some trusted friends about it. I’d decided to tell Craig and Joleen, but I kept chickening out. I finally decided that I’d tell Craig today. 
I was talking to Mitch on the phone tonight and he wanted to hang out tonight because Emilie’s out of town. I dragged Craig along to visit Mitch and determined that I would tell them about my struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA). So we went on a walk and sat down in a park and I told them that I wanted to tell them something. At this point I was so nervous that I was feeling physically ill. I almost didn’t tell them, but I finally blurted out, “For as long as I can remember I’ve been more attracted to guys than girls.” I explained how I wasn’t going to act on it and how I wished I didn’t have it and how hard it was. Mitch spoke the most at first and asked what he could do to help. I said that he really couldn’t do anything except support me and let me share my feelings with him. Craig shared a lot of encouragement and advised me to read my patriarchal blessing and to speak with the bishop. I’ll do that. I also said how I hoped that he wouldn’t feel awkward knowing that his roommate was attracted to men. I don’t remember the words he said, but he basically said that he’d always be my friend and that this wouldn’t change anything between us. That’s what I needed to hear. 

I felt a big burden lifted off of my shoulders when I told them and I’m so grateful that they were understanding and supportive. I’m glad that I can discuss my problem with someone and that they will support me. I’m also glad that Craig still wants to be my roommate.