Saturday, December 12, 2015

Everyone Has a Story, Learn to Listen

 I recently had a great opportunity to go on a weekend retreat.  It has had the greatest impact on my life.   The lessons learned there taught me things I needed to know and learn and as I go forward I am learning more and more from that experience.   I love it when we take the time to do hard things it continues to enrich long after the event.

        There were many wonderful things learned, but one that I have been thinking a lot about are the Stories everyone has.  Everyone has a story,  but often we never take the time to learn the story.   And often we tell ourselves their story, making it up as we go to justify how we feel or to make us feel better about how we feel about them.

       When we take a moment and learn the real story about someone or something, the whole story changes and our lives changes in the process.  Knowing the entire true story makes so much difference in how we perceive and treat others.

     As a young man I worked in a restaurant in Northern Arizona.  My boss was a good man.  Actually I adored him in every way.  When it was slow at night we would talk for hours and he would share his life with me and I learned things about him that I never would have learned or even guessed had we not taken the time to share.    In his mind he was just telling me stories, talking to pass the time, but in the process I learned some great lessons.  The stories he told me about his marriage made a great impact on me.  The stories he told me about choices he had made effected me deeply and left in me a greater desire to be a better person.

      Learning about his life changed my life and left a lasting impression on me.  When I left working for him to serve a mission for the LDS church he would write me letters and at the bottom of each letter he would write in bold letters.  "Learn to Listen".  That statement from him has taught me again and again how important it is to listen.  It is so funny how often times little things done without thinking can change lives.  I don't know if he really understands the impact he had on my life and the impact of knowing the whole story has changed my story.  For 35 years I have thought about that statement, Learn to Listen,  and I have applied it to so many things.

      Learn to Listen,  how great life would be if we could Learn to Listen to the stories of those around us.  Spoken and unspoken.  Both could be profound in so many ways.  Unspoken stories are sometimes the most revealing and powerful.  When we take time to Listen to what is not being said and learn to respond to those stories it can have life changing results.  I am trying to be better at that.  When we Listen with our eyes and our hearts much can be learned about a person.  Often times we ignore the real message because we judge by what we see or think we know before we listen to the real story.

    Learning to listen takes work.  The first thing we need to do is to keep quit.  Close our mouths and listen with our hearts open and accepting.  Everyone has a story and when we hear and FEEL that story our lives are changed.   Not only are our lives changed, but importantly we can change the life of the person telling the story and sometimes the miracle is in the listening.

    In every part of my life I am surrounded by stories.  Some of the stories bring me tears, others bring me joy, but the most important thing that happens to me is understanding.  I am able to look at each person with a deeper love and acceptance as I come to understand they have a story and their story is why they are the way they are.

     When I think of the Savior and how he can love us unconditionally,  I think it has to do with the fact that he knows our story.  He knows what we have been through.  He knows all the heart ache we feel, the joys and sorrows that have made us who we are and no matter how messy,  he sees the complete story and because of that he is able to love us completely.  Through his grace we can learn the stories of those that are placed in our path and through that knowledge we can lift and love in a deeper more meaningful way.

     Learning to Listen is one of the most powerful ways to build relationships and friendships that are meaningful and powerful in that when  we know the story we can love deeper and we have the ability to lift higher and are hearts are filled with compassion and understanding.

    Just one last thought,  learning to listen is so important, equally important is letting others listen to your story.  If you have challenges in your life with people,  maybe they need to hear your story.  It is not enough to learn their story,  they just might need to hear yours and especially if they are trying to listen.

    Everyone, including you has a story and each story is different and wonderful and worth hearing.
LEARN TO LISTEN and your life will be filled with richness and joy.  As as you listen,  love and lift, in the process your compassion and understanding will increase.

Have a joyful day.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Affirmations of Truth, the stories we tell ourselves.

     Recently I had a life changing experience.  Literally a life changing experience.  One of those experiences that leave you totally changed and exhausted for days.  Actually for weeks.   And when my feet finally touched the ground, I realized I was a better person and the experience did actually change my life.

     Let me explain, We live our lives through stories we tell ourselves and we actually believe those stories.  The stories start from a young age and some of the stories, actually most of the stories are stories that others tell us about ourselves.   Often times  the stories told, at least in my life were hurtful and hard.   We don't want to believe them, but when those stories are told again and again we start to believe them and live them.  Some of the stories are good and some of the stories are bad.

     Funny thing is we want to believe the bad stories and I guess for me the reason is that the bad stories were repeated most often.   I didn't want to believe them, but took them in and believed that if so many believed the story and told me the story,  I must be wrong and they must be right.

     The stories that have the most impact on us are one's told when we are young.  Our minds absorb them and we believe them and those stories are the hardest to get away from.  I have learned how important it is that we tell our children and everyone around us good stories about themselves.  Stories like you are good,  your wonderful,  your talented, your fun, etc.  I love the book the Help,  the part where the maid tells the little girl, "You is good, You is Special".   How often do many of us go through life and especially childhood and never hear those words.   It can have a dramatic effect on us and our entire lives, the stories we are told when young.  Good or bad stories effect us deeply.

    The stories I remember from my youth that were told time and time again was that I had no value.  I was never good enough,  I was a sissy and many many other hurtful and hard things.  I was thinking recently that for the first 18 years of my life I could not remember ever really feeling wanted or loved.   I believed the stories that were told and I retold them to myself for years.   It is amazing how we can come to believe such stories and it is also so amazing how our belief in those stories effect every part of our lives.

     So, back to the story.   I went on a weekend retreat of sorts.  Part of the retreat was designed to help us see the stories we tell ourselves and come to terms about them.  For example some of the questions asked were:

Is the story or belief true?
How do you react when you think about the story or belief?
Is this your own story or one from someone else you adopted?
Is there a benefit to holding on to this story?
Can you turn it around?

     It was an amazing experience to take a good look at the stories I have told myself for years and years and discover that the story had changed,  and mostly it was never true to begin with.  As the retreat continued, I was able to change the story and in the process my heart softened and my life has been changed.  I left with an overwhelming realization of how harmful we can be to ourselves as we allow those stories to be believed.  I left the retreat with an overwhelming feeling of peace and joy as I was able to leave some of the most painful stories behind and start to believe in good stories.

     Now when I struggle,  I ask myself those questions and work out the story in my mind and usually I am able to turn it around and take a better look at who I really am and not believe the stories I have told myself and the stories others have told me in the past and present.  

     The real story about me and everyone is that we are sons and daughters of God with unlimited potential for good.  The real story is that we are harder on ourselves then we should be and we spend to much time focusing on the weaknesses,  that in truth are only a small part of the picture, and not enough time focusing on all the good within, that in truth is the big part of the picture.  Can you imagine the power we could have when we come to the understanding that we are children of God and when we truly understand that with that comes the ability to overcome great challenges  and become great in the process.

      I came away from my life changing experience with the firm affirmation that despite is all,  "I am a Good Man".   We are all good men and women with unlimited potential for doing good.  Despite the stories told,  this is the real story about each and every one,  WE ARE GOOD.   I hope that you can dismiss the harmful stories you tell yourself and replace them with strong affirmations of goodness and joy.  And most of all I hope we all come to understand how important it is that the stories we tell others about them only lift and encourage and leave them feeling good about who they are.  After all, a good story or a bad story can effect anothers life for years.  I choose to tell good stories.


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Debilitating Power of Shame

Over the past few months I have been totally amazed at how quickly we can be to shame someone for  things going on in their lives.  In more particular we are quick to shame when we don't understand or accept a certain lifestyle, habit, or mindset.  I have watched how shame causes heartache and confusion in the lives of those affected.  Both the one being shamed and the one shaming.

I ask a few simple Questions.

What is the reason we choose to shame someone in the first place?
Do we think by shaming them we will get the desired result from them?
Does the act of shaming make me feel better about who I am?
Does the act of shaming make others feel better about who they are?
Does the shaming cause change or the desire to be better?

Question #1
What is the reason we choose to shame someone in the first place?  I have observed that when we choose to shame someone we are often filled with lack of understanding.   We act out on fear of what they are doing and most often the person we are shaming is close to us and we are consumed at how what they are doing will make us look.  Often it is not about them at all.  We are worried that someone will judge us because of what they are doing.  For example,  a wife that finds out that her husband struggles with Same Gender Attraction (SGA) shames him,  she is not thinking about the burden he  carries,  instead she most often struggles with what others will think of her.  Questions like,  Am I not good enough for him, and what have I done wrong.   Filled with these questions shame is piled on the man  when what he really needs is understanding and compassion.  Shame should never be applied or used, especially when someone is struggling with what we may consider a weakness.  We use shame as a shield to protect our image and our hearts.  When we strike with shame it justifies us and our feelings.  Yet in the process it destroys the trust and love of those we are shaming.

Question #2
Do we think by shaming them we will get the desired result from them?  Shame has never or never will give someone the desire to improve.  I should state that someone should feel regret for his actions, but shame is not the motivating power to get someone to even take a closer look at what we might consider a weakness.  Once again I will use the example of SGA.  Many who struggle with this are already filled with shame and frustration.  Does anyone for a moment think that anyone who struggles with this asked for this struggle.  Absolutely not and by shaming them we only add to the huge burden they already carry.  Shame does not lift or comfort,  it pulls one down deeper into despair and frustration.  If we really want someone to grow from the struggle they have we must put shame aside and open our hearts to love and understanding.  Even when we have no clue or comprehension what they are struggling with.  Shame does not heal,  it opens the wounds deeper and deeper until all hope is lost.

Question #3
Does the act of shaming make me feel better about who I am?
If we feel better after shaming someone who is struggling with any challenge we need to take a good look at our hearts.  I find myself examining my heart on a regular basis and find I need a constant reminder to remember that I have challenges of my own that others do now understand and so I try not to judge or shame those around me that are struggling.  Simple things that we might find offensive are often nothing in reality and the person who does them often times is unaware that what he is doing is offensive.  Often times when they are aware of what they are doing,  they are fighting the battle of personal shame.  We are our worst enemies when it comes to shame.  We really don't need anyone else doing it for us,  we do fine on our own.

Question #4
Does the act of shaming make others feel better about who they are?
I don't know anyone who feels better or has gained strength to improve after being shamed.  I believe that it just pulls one down and takes away the desire to be better.   On the other hand when we love and lift and encourage others who are struggling they move forward with faith and joy knowing that someone believes in them.  Kindness always wins and understanding always brings out the best in others.  Shame only destroys and often the heart is so tender that it takes very little shame to do a lot of damage.

Question #5
Does the shaming cause change or the desire to do better?
NO, NO, NO.   Shame is a horrible, mean, damaging thing to do.  If we want change in those around us we need to love, lift, and understand.  Only when we can put ourselves in the shoes of another and really try to see where they are coming from can we begin to have the power to lift others out of the shame they feel.  Shame is not a fix it all.  Shame does not bring about the desire to change.  We are not helping the struggling person when we try to shame them.  We need to be lifters and encourager's to build faith and confidence that no matter what we can all rise above any challenge we might have and live a life devoid of shame inflicted on us by others and ourselves.  We should never define ourselves by the shame we feel.  We are so much greater in every respect then the shame we bring upon ourselves or the shame that is inflicted upon us.

Shame only leads to frustration and heartache.  It does not build and strengthen.   Shame, I believe, takes away from the Divine Power of Grace.  Blessed be the person who comes to understand the Worth of a Soul and sees beyond the weakness or fault and can lift and love another without shaming them, even when we don't understand the burden they are carrying.

Greatest success to each of you as you learn to lift others above the personal shame they may be feeling.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Affection or Attraction What is the Difference...

Today a very dear friend called and we had the most interesting discussion ever about Affection vs Attraction.  It was something I have been thinking about and it was so wonderful to hear those thoughts coming from him.  It was just what I needed to inspire me to write a new blog.  But...

....First let me tell you about this friend.   We meet a few years ago.  I have known his family for awhile, taught classes for members of his family and knew his wife well, but I had never had the opportunity of meeting him.  

Until one night when I was in the area where he lives teaching classes I get a call from him.  He stated that he had been thinking about me and wondered if he could come where I was staying and spend some time getting aquinted with me.  At the time I was staying at his parents home so it made it easy.  He came for the evening and we sat in the jaquisie and talked for hours.  From that night on we have been best friends.  Really best friends.  We love each other completly and totally enjoy life when we are together.  We live in different states, but we talk when we can and completly enjoy our friendship.  He is one of those friends that I feel I have know forever and we are so comfortable with each other.  He tells how for a few nights he could not sleep thinking about me and wanting to meet me.  I am so glad he followed that feeling for now we share a really close wonderful friendship.  Once when we were talking on the phone, after we hung up his wife commented, "You guys really love each other don't you".  He laughed and said "I guess we do".  

He even made the effort once to travel from where he lives to experience "Third Sunday Dinner" at my home and my family loved him and enjoyed his company as much as I do.  We are years apart in age,  my family is raised and he is right in the middle of it all, so we don't have a lot of time together, but it does not matter.  Friends like that just pick up where they left off.  He totally makes me want to be a better person and his insight and thought process gets me thinking.  I throw some pretty crazy stuff at him and he is always prepared and understands exactly where I am coming from.   This friend has absolutely no Same Gender Attraction.  

From him I have learned to be more Christlike in my dealings and I have learned that no matter where we are in life we can benifit from each other.  I have learned that really good friendships don't require a lot of time and when we follow impressions great things happen.  From his friendship I have learned just how large the human heart can be and that there is always room for more.  I love meeting like minded men,  meaning men that understand the true value of healthy meaningful intimate, non sexual relationships with other men.  These relationships are priceless.  My friend, I thank you for your friendship and constant encouragement in all things.  Forever grateful to have your friendship, your family, your time, your goodness,  and brotherly love.    Now back to the article....

So one day he sent me this text.....

There is a difference from affection and attraction.  Affection is something that is a gift of God.  It is built around the pure love of God.  It allows us to get emotionally close to someone.  Attraction is something we learn over time and caused because of the affection we have toward someone or something.  I am attracted to the vagina.  But I learned that over time.  When I was a boy, I was naturally affectionate towards women (my mom). Later I became affectionate towards girls.  But it wasn't until I was exposed to the vagina multiple times that I began to like it.  Attraction causes us to to act upon our affection.  My son is affectionate towards a young girl.  But if u showed him a vagina, he'd likely gross out.  Affection towards people of the same sex is not a bad thing.  It is when we act upon attraction which is physical which is bad.

So very well said.  It got me thinking a lot about physical vs. spiritual in relationships.   So I changed a couple parts of his text to not offend, but you get the picture.  We had a lengthy discussion on this topic and this is my angle on what he said.  

Affection in natural and as he stated it is a gift from God.  I agree.  In my thinking affection is spiritual.  It is love and we feel it towards as many as we will allow ourselves to love.  There are no limits on affection or love.  We are free to love or feel affection to whoever we want and as many as we desire.  Affection is pure and clean and has nothing to do with phycisal.  It is a feeling in the heart about how we feel towards someone.  It is a warm feeling and when we feel it we feel good.  There is no regret associated with affection and it can grow.  Affection can be with anyone and is totally acceptable and actually completely needed in our lives. Affection has eternal increase, meaning it will continue to grow forever when based upon good principles.  True affection is not selfish, does not know evil,  it has the power to lift  and uplift ourselves and more importantly those we are affectionate with.  

And Affection can lead to Attraction.  

Attraction is often physical.  Meaning that is it is usually based on physical things.  Like looks.  Attraction does often cause affection.  Often it is the attraction that leads us to make a friend in the first place.  But if we base the entire relationship on attraction, it leads to physical.  Physical is what can cause the damage in a relationship.  Physical is selfish.  It is about filling selfish needs.  When the physical overshadows the affection it can become an issue when acted upon in an inappropriate manner.  The entire challenge of this life is to overcome the physical man, or the natural man  Remember the "Natural Man is an Enemy to God".  Scripture states that is has been and always will be.  Scripture also tells us to "Put off the Natural Man".   

The Natural Man is motivated by physical things and attractions.  The spiritual man is motivated by affection and does not allow the physical to rule his life or actions.   Yes it can be hard and difficult to do that, especially when we are physical and it is a powerful part of who we are.  

I love the affection I have and feel towards my friends and I enjoy the affection they feel towards me. It lifts me in positive ways that bring me more light and understanding.  I enjoy more peace and joy in my life when I put aside the physical and lean towards the affectionate side of my nature.  

We are beings created to both physical and affectionate, spiritual.   

Thank you my good friend for a great thought provoking text.   

I truly hope each of you have the joy in building affectionate friendships that can bring you joy and happiness today and for years to come.  


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Monday, October 12, 2015

Be Careful How You Judge

Frequently  I am approached by someone, or someone asks one of my children if I am Gay.  I makes me laugh how quickly we are to judge by what we hear or what we see.  I have been posting on a blog for the past year,  It's called the Jonathan and David Experience,  it is a blog designed to help men who struggle with SGA, Same Gender Attraction.    I started the blog out of a need to help men who are struggling and need support, guidance, love, and direction.  It has been a great blessing and yet at the same time really hard.  The hard part is dealing with narrow minded people who assume that just because one involves himself in a worthwhile cause he must have problems of his own.  I decided to write a blog to educate everyone just were I stand.  So judge for yourself and please  in the future when you make judgements on people, get the whole story and keep in mind that judgements made without knowing all the details can hurt and cause harm to many, those you judge and who knows how many countless others you will affect by your judgements. 

I have never considered myself a gay man.  However, after all is said and done, most people think I am. It does make me laugh, Let me explain.  The first 18 years of my life were pure hell.  I was raised in a small town in northern Arizona.  As a child I was different from the other children.  I loved playing with dolls,  dressing up in my mom’s clothes, writing poems, and planting flowers.  The hard part was that I was raised in a home filled with what I call “macho idiots”.  These were men who did not understand that a boy could behave in a way other than how they thought a boy or man should behave.  In their minds, real men did certain things; real men did not do the things I did.  It was a difficult situation to say the least.  I really did try to do ‘boy things’.  I tried sports just to make the men in my life happy.  That is what they wanted after all, and so I really tried to please, only to fail and then feel worse.
Home life was hard,  but school was even harder.  I was a sissy at home.  At school I was called a faggot.  To this day I hate both of these words.  I had absolutely no friends to speak of and was beaten up frequently at school, spit on, bullied, and verbally abused by everyone at school and at home.
My parents divorced when I was twelve and that only added to the confusion and abuse.  Her husbands were abusive and difficult and resented me and my feminine ways.  I was extremely effeminate and as I look back I understand completely why I was judged to be gay.
My father, a good man, had absolutely no understanding of me and my girlish ways.  He tried, but had no clue how to raise an effeminate boy.  He told me once in a fit of anger that I was a girl in a boy’s body.  Those words cut clear to the bone and are not easily set aside or easy to forget. I craved his love and attention.  My brothers got all they needed from him.  They understood each other.  After all they were real boys and I was something he just could not understand.  At one point I thought I hated my dad, but realized it was not hate but a desire to have him love me and acknowledge who I was.
I really cannot remember very many pleasant times prior to age eighteen. At an early age I started working in the cafe business, I was constantly surrounded by women which contributed to my feminine ways and was constantly propositioned by men patrons to do things.  I was sexually abused as a teenager by a man who took advantage of my vulnerable state and the need to be loved.
Growing up my family was not active in church.  I tried and had the deep desire to do so, but each time I tried I felt out of place and was often rejected by judgmental church members who did not understand what I was going through.   We moved around a lot and I would try to go to seminary and church and do what I felt was right, but I cannot ever remember feeling accepted or wanted in any church setting.
When I was eighteen, I had an experience one evening that set my course for life.  I was involved in some things that I should not have been doing.  Nothing too serious, but wrong nonetheless.  At one point I was handed a mirror and as I looked in the mirror I saw the reflection of what I thought was Satan.  He was laughing at me and as he laughed at me I heard him say, ”I have you now, just where I want you”.  It scared the crap out of me.  I left the party and called my Bishop and met with him.  Since then I have learned that when the Devil thinks he has won, God always steps in.  The trick is to follow him when he steps in.  I did.
I changed my life and started going to church.  It was hard.  I was still the same effeminate person I always had been.  Because of the small town in which I lived , the people had their opinions of me.  But I stayed the course.  It was the hardest year of my life as I gave up bad habits for new ones.

At one point in that year I came to a conclusion: Everyone thought I was gay and I had to make a decision about who I was.  I didn't know if I loved men or not at that age.  I had never really had many male friends, or crossed the line with inappropriate behavior,  but whatever the course I made a life changing decision during that year.  I told myself that I was not gay and no matter what I felt or what others told me, first and foremost I would follow the Savior and do whatever he asked of me.  I decided that I would keep the commandment at whatever cost, not matter how I felt or what I wanted.
Thirty seven years later after many years of battling same gender attraction (SGA), for me it was more a deep love for men rather than a sexual attraction or need, and coming to understand who I am, I have discovered that the choice I made so many years ago kept me on the path that God wants me on.  There have been major challenges and obstacles to overcome and understand.  I have recently come to understand that  since I made the choice to follow Him no matter what, he has blessed me with an amazing understanding of who I am and why I struggled with those deep loving feelings for men for so long.  Through obedience to Him and my complete desire to follow Him, He has opened the doors of personal revelation and I understand my feminine qualities and attraction to other men are indeed gifts from God; If used in His way this can and indeed will bless my life and the lives of so many others in ways that I am just starting to understand.
So yes,  according to the world’s standard, I might be considered GAY.  But in my eyes I am a man that has a deep Christ like love for men and in God’s eyes I am a son of God with specific talents and abilities, that if used for good can become and have become my greatest blessings and gifts from a loving Heavenly Father.  I am proud to be a man that loves other men in a healthy Christlike way, and I am proud to be a man who chooses to follow the Savior no matter what.  Life is hard, but as we take the challenges we have been given and trust in the Lord,  all things will come to light and we will come to understand our divine missions and stewardships here on earth.

I have come to understand that one of my missions is to teach other men what I have learned and help them understand that indeed we can have deep loving healthy relationships with other men. In fact I have learned that as we move forward and learn to love other men in a healthy non sexual way our lives are enriched and blessed in ways that exceed our understanding.

I am grateful for the challenges I have had and I am most grateful for the knowledge that when we follow the Savior we receive all we need to battle what life gives us. I am happy to have so many loving men friends in my life that bless me in so many ways and I look forward to many more as I have come to understand that one of God's greatest gifts He gives us is a heart with an unlimited ability and capacity to love as deeply and as many as we want. The only restrictions he places on loving others is to keep it within the bonds He has set.

Greatest Joy and Success to you in your own personal journey and please be careful how you judge, you never know what is on another's heart.


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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Continued Friendship~ Setting Boundries

The actions we take in making and keeping friends determines how long that friendship will last.  When we base our actions on spiritual, the friendships we make have unlimited potential. When we base our actions on physical, the course it takes is dramatically different.

We have a choice in how that friendship will continue.  "Continued Friendship" to me is a friendship that continues in depth and beauty, survives hardships and trials, and often times was started before we came here on earth to live, and if we do it right will continue on forever.

Each day I learn more and more about the challenges men face in today's world.  Those of us that are considered sensitive and have some degree of attraction to other men are often misunderstood and deemed unworthy of normal experiences in life.

Often, in fact quit often those attractions have nothing to do with sex.  Most often it is just the deep, often misunderstood need for close intimate relationships with other men.  And yes often times when there is a close healthy, platonic, physical, non sexual relationships with other man our bodies do react.  And often when this  happens it can be uncomfortable.  When this does happen,  it's simple,  just remember you  cannot control what your body does, but you can at all time control what you do with it.  So the physical biological change in the body does not need to define the relationship.

The world would have us believe that if our bodies react in a certain way we are to act upon that reaction.  I love what the scriptures teach.  The natural man is an enemy to God.  This surely is part of the natural man.  The natural man is programed to respond to what the body tells him.  Is not that the challenge of life?  To put aside the callings of the natural man and follow what God teaches.

To me this is the challenge of life.  Some men want and have a great need for greater intimacy and closeness to other men.  The challenge is when they have that intimacy is how to keep it within the bounds that God has set while at the same time fulfilling a huge need in their lives.

I understand the need for those close sweet personal intimate relationships.  I also understand the peace and power that comes into our lives when we don't cross the line over the boundaries God has set.  There are no teachings telling men not to have close tender sweet relationships with other men,  but there are countless teachings on where to draw the line.  Sex, stimulating the body of another man in any inappropriate way,  making out, touching personal body parts, etc are considered crossing the line.  And yes even thinking of those things in an inappropriate way can be crossing the line.

 But on the other hand having healthy loving physical non sexual touch is and can be an amazing part of a healthy good life long friendship.  There is something really special about close personal touch.  For example,  hugging can be a wonderful experience.  I perfer to use the term embracing.  A hug is impersonal and quick.  On the other hand an embrace can a powerful learning experience and something that comforts the very soul of a man.  We need those experiences.

I do have to say that there are many men who can go through life and never have the need for an embrace,  but on the other hand if you are not one of those men and you have the need for that close physical contact of an embrace, don't deny yourself the experience out of fear of how your body will react.  Just go for it and if you have to apologize for what happens, just do it.   If the truth be told, many men suffer from the same experience from time to time.  Your not weird or a pervert, your just a healthy man with a healthy body that reacts.

So let's talk about healthy boundaries.  Boundaries are rules that we make for ourselves and others,   knowing our own weaknesses and shortcomings  to assure that we don't cross any line that would bring us regret and heartache later on.  Boundaries can be different for everyone.  It's important to state that you must respect the boundaries of others,  what you may find comfortable and have no problem dealing with might be a trigger point to another person.

When building friendships it is important to discuss those boundaries and be supportive of each other and respectful that each of us have different challenges and obstacles to over come.

Some boundaries might include the following

1- Not being alone with another man or always being in a group setting
2- Hanging out with men that are like minded,  meaning men that share the same goals that you do.
3- Hanging out with men that respect you and your boundies
4- No touch below the belt
5- Never undressing and being alone naked with another man
6- No making out
7- Not discussing things that are inappropriate

These are just a few suggestions,  but you get the picture.  Create boundaries according to your own personal struggles. Keeping in mind when you create your boundaries the need you do have for healthy physical contact with other men.

The worst thing I personally think you could do is not take the time to develop healthy personal long term loving relationships with other men based on fears and misunderstandings.   If you have that need to connect with other men my own personal suggestion would be to stay close to God and be prayful about your needs and trust in him to show you and teach you how you can keep the commandments and have close, wonderful, healthy physical,  non sexual, emotional, and spiritual relationships with other men.

There are countless stories in history and the scriptures and many other holy records in other faiths that tell great stories of men who have loved other men deeply,  one of my personal favorites is David's love for Jonathan.  At one point in his life David explains that his love for Jonathan was sweeter then his love for women, and we know how much David loved women.

I personally get it,  there are many many men that I love with all my heart and it is a sweet love that exceeds my understanding.  For me is what makes it sweeter is keeping it within the bounds God has set.  Because of that the relationships I have with other men continue in depth and beauty and I am certain will continue far beyond my understanding.   I have comfort in knowing that God understands the need I have and he gives us of us the ability to love as deeply and as many as we want.  God places no boundaries on love,  the only boundaries He places are what we do physically, not spiritually.

Greatest Joy to you in your journey.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Can We Walk on Water

I have been thinking a lot about something this week that I want to share with each of you.  I was having my morning study and was reading about the story of Peter in the new testament,  the story of him walking on water.  I think Peter sort of gets a bad warp in this story.  Meaning that everyone always thinks its about Peter’s lack of faith and we how we need to look to the Savior. 

     I really feel those are valid and great points, but I personally feel the real lesson in this story is not the lack of faith in Peter,  but that Peter had enough faith to try to walk on water when the Savior bid.  We are all lacking in faith and the Savior knows that.  This is the interesting part.  The Savior didn't mock Peter when he sank into the water, the amazing thing is he did what he always does to each of use that are trying and sinking into the waves of life. 

 He, the Savior, held out his hand to Peter, who was lacking in faith, and he, the Savior lifted Peter up to him.   That is the message of this story for me.  No matter what challenges we face in life and no matter what mistakes we make, when we are trying and have the faith to try, even if we are sinking, because we had the faith to try, the Savior always reaches out his hand and lifts us up to him. 

The Savior always makes up the difference.  Between his perfect love and our lack of faith and short comings the Savior lifts us up and strengthens our faith in him. 

 I feel one lesson in this story is that the Savior wants us to understand that even though our faith may be lacking, his is not and he will always lift us up to the task at hand.   I love the Savior.  I love knowing that he is there and his love is perfect as is his understanding.  He knows when we are trying and he always will lift us up to him.   

The amazing part of the story if you think about it is that the Savior didn't let Peter drown or sink in over his head,  but the Savior did let him sink just enough to let Peter know he needed his help.  
The Savior taught Peter and us in this story that even though Peter’s  faith was lacking, as ours often is,  He, the Savior was still be there and always be ready to save us and lift us to higher ground just as he did with Peter. 
      The Savior does not require that our faith is a perfect faith for him to reach out his hand help us, he only requires that we have the desire and put all the effort we can give however lacking it may be into the challenges we face.  The Savior loves us and wants us to come to him even as he bade Peter to come into the rough ocean he bids us to come into rough waters, not to let us sink, but to increase our faith and our understanding that he it there for us and he will always stretch forth his hand to lift us up to him.  And than our understanding will deepen and in the process we come to understand that standing next to the Savior, we can indeed walk on water.

My good friends and brothers,  we face many challenges and obstacles in life, from marriage, addictions, SGA, illness, financial struggles,  and many many more,  but we are not alone and there is always a hand to lift us up,  whether it be the hand of the Savior, or someone he sends your way,  we can rise above the waves and enjoy the feelings of being lifted to higher grounds.   

Love you,  Brad

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Carry One Another's Burdens

On a recent flight home, I was assigned to sit in a seat between two men.  I sat down, and paid little attention to either one specifically.  I was settling into my seat and the man to my left extended his hand, gave me his name and asked me if i was on my way home.  I shook his hand and smiled and explained that I was on my way home.   I asked him the same, and he began his story.  

He explained that he had been on his way home for eight hours.  He was working out of town and had been gone for several months, but today his wife had called to say that their young son had landed in the hospital.  He was frantic to get home as the boy was not doing well.  I could smell alcohol on his breath.  His eyes were puffy from crying.  I listened as he told me what was going on.  

As he started to break down in front of me, I felt so helpless.  I didn’t feel like I knew what to do.  Here I was in this plane full of strangers.  I was tired and frankly, when I walked on the plane I was looking forward to a nap.  But I felt so much compassion for this man’s situation.  I could tell he needed comfort.  He then asked me if I could pray for his son.  He was going to pray at that moment.  I said that I would certainly pray for his son and his family.  

Out of nowhere, he did something unexpected.  He took my hand as he said a silent prayer.  I offered a silent prayer as well.  I expected him to let go of my hand when  he was finished praying.  He didn’t.  He held my hand for a few minutes as he talked.  At that moment, I decided that I didn’t care about what others thought.  He needed to have someone show him true Christlike compassion.  He needed someone to help him carry his load.  And he was afraid of losing his child.  

He began to cry more and leaned into me.  I let go of his hand, and put my arm around him and let him cry.  He still reached out to hold my hand and I put my other hand in a handshake position into his hand.  We sat there like this for several more minutes.  

After a while, he sat back up and I took the queue to let go of the embrace.  He continued to talk.  He said that I was the first kind person he had encountered all day.  He told me that he was grateful to have another father sitting next to him; someone who could understand a father’s love for a child.  He said he was grateful that I was a man of faith and someone who believes in God and was willing to pray with him - even if in silence.  He said he felt that God had answered his prayers in having another man there who could help him complete this last leg of this trip and that he could find some peace because of my presence.  

We were not of the same faith.  We were not people who had a lot in common, but he was at that moment my brother.  I could empathize with him because I too have prayed over my children in times of desperate need.  I have felt the pain of helplessness at a time when it was my responsibility to protect.   As another man, I could understand those feelings that are projected onto us and that we innately understand as fathers.

We talked about other things for a while.  He was happy to discuss something else and then said that he could feel his burden lifted as we had talked.  He said that he felt that I must be an angel sent to help him carry this burden at this very moment.  

As we descended I decided I would help him get outside.  I stayed with him as we walked to baggage claim.  I helped him get his luggage out to the curb.  His wife came and I helped him get loaded up.  He came over and embraced me and thanked me for all I had done.  He left and shortly after my wife came to pick me up.  

I am not an angel in the sense that I am some heavenly being that goes around doing good deeds.  I am just another human being.  I am a normal man.  But it strengthened my faith to know that we are all instruments in God’s hands.  He puts us in places at the right time to help our brothers in need.   I wasn’t put out by what I did.  It didn’t cost me anything.  I didn’t share any time with this man other than flight time.  I didn’t leave my family waiting or have any great plans postponed to take the time to do what I did.  Simply put, what I did was not a sacrifice at all to me.  God put me in the right place at the right time to be his comfort when he needed comfort, to pray with him, and shed a tear as he cried.  

Lifting our brothers doesn’t always require sacrifice.  However, it is our responsibility to recognize those moments and do what a disciple of the Savior would do.  Sometimes it just requires us to be present in the moment we are given.  


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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Young Man’s Perspective

      As a young man who experiences same-sex attraction, life is very complicated, particularly because I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fate has dealt me an interesting hand to say the least. In American culture we are brought up with the philosophy that we must stand up for what we believe in. In Mormon culture we are also influenced to live what we know to be true. So obviously our beliefs and consequently our thought-processes heavily influence our behavior. Most LDS parents do their best to instill “the truth” in their children, providing them with opportunities for spiritual growth and exposure to inspiration. Yet, after all of this time and effort, an increasing amount of LDS parents are faced with a daunting and perceptively underserved plot twist. 
     Their child is gay.
     Instantly hearts are filled with self-blame and questions. “What could I have done differently?” “How could he choose a path that he knows is contrary to the Plan of Salvation?!” As children are raised to act on what they know to be true, they encounter the reality of the natural man. In regards to same-sex attraction, the yearnings and appetites that accompany it are real and difficult to ignore. Often the Gospel seeds sewn by parents and teachers must compete with these natural feelings. 
      Additionally, homosexuality is a favorite topic for ridicule, particularly among men. In quorum lessons, it was assumed that we were all experiencing attractions to women. These attractions were labeled as blessings from God, that they were part of God’s plan and that we would eventually be able to act on them. Never was a word spoken concerning homosexual attractions in a positive light. I was never taught that these feelings were nothing to be ashamed of and that I should open up to my parents and leaders. All references to same-sex attraction were negative. These conflicting voices almost always result in shame, depression, and anxiety – an unrelenting fear of exposure and rejection. 
      Negativity seeping from the stigma attached to same-sex attraction drives away the Spirit. I have friends who have left the Church because they constantly felt unwanted, constantly torn down by ignorant rhetoric. The weeds which choke the seedlings of Gospel testimony are the embodiment of these mutually-hard feelings. 
      My point is that children who leave the Church for the “gay lifestyle” are often trying to be true to what they know is real. Their attractions can consume their thoughts and occupy every minute of every day. Eventually, these children can come to the conclusion that the only way to pursue happiness is to act on their yearnings. 
     But this doesn’t apply to everyone. In my case, I have never doubted that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. This testimony is not based solely on the miracles that I have witnessed, nor the witnesses of my parents. I consider it a gift of the Spirit that I know that Christ lives and that through His atonement I can be saved. Because of my life-long attractions to other men, I had such an extreme low self-esteem growing up; I had difficulty looking anyone in the eyes. I was very sensitive and was often the subject of bullying at school and at church. I even got the impression from reading the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet that I was an abomination (as it termed homosexual behavior) for wanting these forbidden relationships so desperately. I longed to be loved and intimately connected to a man, and these thoughts became sexualized. 
     I excelled at music and art, but such talents and tendencies tend to be stigmatized and scoffed at as feminine. I made my high school’s varsity volleyball team, which I hoped would help me feel like “one of the guys,” but I was sexually harassed by the seniors on the team, many of whom were members of the Church. Additionally, I was bullied by the openly gay crowd for being a Mormon. At this time I came very close to killing myself but was saved by a very spiritual experience. I completely understand why so many choose suicide over a life of perceived loneliness. 
     Worried that I was unworthy to serve a mission because of my attractions, I told my bishop and parents. Telling my parents was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I writhed in agony in the hours preceding my “coming out.” Fortunately, they were very understanding and compassionate in their response. I hope that all parents of children who struggle with same-sex attraction appreciate the supreme trust that these children convey by opening up about this subject. Whether they intend to act on these feelings or not, these children have done the bravest thing in their lives and therefore deserve respect. 
     Serving a mission was the best thing that I could ever do for my life. While it was tremendously difficult and stressful, I found the connections I longed for with other missionaries, and I realized that sex wasn’t what I truly wanted. I just wanted to be accepted and loved by my male peers. My harrowing experiences with same-sex attraction emboldened my testimony and enabled me to testify with the Spirit regarding the power of the atonement in a way I know that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I found and joined North Star within a week of returning home from my honorable two-year mission. I find solace in the battle-proven testimonies of others who have fought the same demons as I have. Through vulnerability, I have been able to build intimate relations with other men and thereby meet my needs in healthy ways. 
     So many in our time are crying out for reform in Church doctrine around the issue of marriage. In an attempt to defend their faith, many members respond in hostility. What needs to change is not doctrine, but culture. Fortunately, it has never been easier to talk about same-sex attraction, but we still have a ways to go. I have yet to see an openly gay couple attend or investigate the Church, and until we are willing to address this struggle with Christ-like kindness and empathy nothing will change. 

     For those whose children have strayed from the path of the Savior, I beg you to not ostracize them for acting out on their feelings. We must never condone sin, but when families maintain an environment of charity and forgiveness, it will be so much easier for the lost to return. I know that this gospel is for everyone, and as we do our best to invite others to Christ, our Heavenly Father will make all things right.

Sincerely, JB

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Friday, July 31, 2015

The Garden of Friendship

Like my grandfather and my father, I am a gardener. I have fond memories of working with my grandfather in his garden as I was growing up.  My grandfather was my hero.  As a child I idolized him and looked up to him as the most important figure in my life.  In so many ways I strove to be like him.  

As an adult I maintain his love of gardening.  I go out after work and ‘play’ in my garden.  I work the soil.  I weed.  I pick the fruits and vegetables.  I try to find new ways to keep pests from it, without killing beneficial insects.  I worry about it.  I pray it grows.  As crazy as it sounds I touch my plants gently and talk with them.  Ultimately, I glean happiness from the harvest of my labors.  

Now, why don’t I do that with all my friendships?  I need to start treating my friendships like I do my garden.  As I see it, there are only two things we take with us from this earth: our knowledge/memories, and our relationships with others.  I love my plants, but the time and effort I put into them shouldn’t overshadow what I give to my friendships and relationships.   

friendships, like plants have basic needs.  When those needs are met they survive.  But survival is not the same as flourishing or thriving.  Living in the desert gives a new appreciation to plants surviving versus plants thriving.  If you throw enough water at the plant it will likely survive, but in its survival, you will see a lot of weakness and stunted growth.  

In order to make a plant flourish - especially a non-native plant in the desert - it takes a lot of work and care.  You must first prepare the soil.   The soil might need to be different depending on the plant.  for a cactus the soil should be very different than for garden vegetables.  I need to make sure the soil is fertilized and then well watered.  As the seedlings sprout, I watch them like a hawk - literally - I don’t want predators destroying the young and very weak plant. As the plant grows and becomes more mature, it takes less time and effort, but just the same there is effort involved.  If you want it to flourish you need to continue to provide correct amounts of water, fertilizer, sun and shade. Too much or too little of anything will cause weakness in the plant.

So what are some ways I have found to help a friendship thrive?

Communication is one.   Make an effort to communicate with more than just the occasional message.  And when communicating, make an effort to engage in the conversation with that person.  Too many times we are with someone but in communication with our mobile devices than the person we are with at that moment. I know if someone is more interested in what social media says than what I am saying when I am sitting across from them, it feels like they don’t really want to be with me.

Honesty and openness in who you are in a friendship is paramount.  Sometimes, when you are getting to know each other, it may seem scary to be honest.  Of course it is important to use tact, but setting your expectations and boundaries in a healthy manner is very important.  My new favorite phrase is, ‘I’d rather have someone hate me for who I am than love me for who I’m not’.  I feel that we mask our true selves from those whom we consider friends and then too often we feel our true selves can never be revealed because they know the ‘other’ person we are.  Some might say this is being vulnerable.

Allow them to make mistakes and/or do things differently than you do.  Just like a plant that may grow in a way that you don’t like, so our friends may do something that we don’t like.  Just because they don’t do things the way we would do them doesn’t make them wrong, or need to result in your unfriending them.  True friendship deserves to have allowances for the other’s ways.  

Let’s start out friendships with honesty and healthy vulnerability. Let’s make communication sincere.  Don’t be afraid to be who you are around them.  Those who are truly your friends will cherish you for who you are!  This is what makes relationships thrive!


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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Sum of It All....A Real Man

I have the wonderful opportunity to work closely with a lot of men.  In the process of learning a lot about them and the struggles they have in life, I have observed and learned how personally we take our struggles, and how we let our imperfections keep us from growing. 

Let me explain.  All the men I deal with are men of great character and strength.  I am often humbled by the burdens they carry, but most often I am astounded by the amazing men they are: Strong, compassionate, determined men who want to do what is right.  They are men who lift up others around them and are examples of goodness and righteous behavior.  They are men I want to be like.   What is the catch?  In all their goodness, often all they can see is their struggle.  All they see is weakness and it blurs the total vision of who they are. 

I will describe this in a way that will hopefully make better sense.  I learn about these men and how good they are.  I see the light of Christ in their eyes and feel the strength of their spirits, and yet they beat themselves up over weaknesses they have.  In the case of weaknesses that would be considered a sin, I do not want to diminish the challenge of sin.   All sin is wrong and needs to be worked on and taken away from our character, but often we allow the sin to dictate who we are.  If allowed, that sin becomes the whole of who we are, and not just a small component included in everything good that we are.  For example,  if a man has a problem with moral sin, like masturbation, in his eyes it is overwhelming and totally weighs him down.  He bases his whole person on that problem.  It is a problem and one that must be overcome, but in view of the total picture of who he is, it is small in comparison.  Once again I am not trying to diminish or justify sin,  I am just trying to put it into perspective.

The problem comes when we listen to the adversary whispers that we are worthless or nothing.  Especially after we sin, he tells us we are worthless and might as well give in.  So we give up and sin again, and so he whispers again and again.  It is hard to get out of the circle of his whispers when we only focus on the sin and our weakness.  He makes it seem impossible, and he makes us feel like we are without hope or that we will never overcome and rise above the sin.  He is the master at clouding our vision and not allowing us to see the complete picture of who we really are.

Who are we really?  We are Sons of God with unlimited potential and divine potential; men of great value and strength.  We are strong men who love and care for others, and keep so many other commandments.  We are men that God loves and honors because of our efforts to do good.  Really, in the big picture of who we are, some of the things we struggle with are small and of little consequence.  They can be easily overcome when we focus on who we really are and not who Satan wants us to believe we are. 

Yes it is hard to deal with the shame of sin.  But the vast majority of the shame comes because Satan wants to bring us down to his level.  The Savior’s way is not to fill us with shame.  His way for us is love and understanding and hope.  He understands we will sin, and has provided a way to overcome the sin.  But lets be realistic; the need for the atonement would be of no value if we were perfect. The only way to become perfect is when we allow the atonement to cleanse our sins.  The atonement has the power to lift us up and  make us better; to give us the power to resist sin and see the value of who we are even when we are struggling with weakness.  Satan's power drags us down.  When we feel  like we are nothing; when we beat ourselves up constantly, who's plan are we following?  Satan's plan.  

We should absolutely be concerned about our weaknesses and struggles.  We need to work on overcoming and becoming more Christlike.  However, if all we do is dwell on the sin and not on who we really are, we will never overcome and rise to the potential of who we really can be. 

In summary, a Real Man is one who recognizes his weakness and is anxiously engaged in overcoming them.  But a Real Man also sees his total worth is the Lord’s eyes and as he sees this, it gives him courage and strength to be better.  

Let’s focus on the divine nature each of us possesses and not focus on our own sins and those of others.  Do we see in the everyone’s eyes the precious spirit of God that dwells there?  Life is a challenge and as we look at the whole person and not just the sin, we can and will see greatness in others and ourselves.

I struggle everyday with weaknesses and faults, but as I ponder and pray I realize that the things I struggle with are a small part of who I really am.  That knowledge gives me the strength to ignore the constant whisperings of Satan telling me I am worthless.   No matter my struggles,  I am a Son of God with unlimited potential and value.  We all are.


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