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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