“I [Didnt] Know What to Do”

Last night as I was driving to meet a friend for dinner, I had an “oh wow” moment.

I was crossing over the James River and I looked over at the sun setting over the river and on all the downtown buildings and all I could think was “wow, I never imagined my life would be like this”.

I’ve had these moments before; just every once in a while, when for a moment everything seems to be just how it should.

One year ago (next month) I drove into this beautiful city of Lynchburg, VA. The rain was pouring down like I had never witnessed in my life and I just kept asking myself if I had made the right decision to come here. But the next morning, the sun came up and everything dried out and I knew that this was going to be an adventure worth having.

My life has changed quite a bit over the last 11 months. Some very big changes have occurred while others have been small and maybe not noticeable to others. A few weeks ago I was going through some of my things in order to begin consolidating so I can move out of my apartment. As I was doing this I found one of my journals. For a few years I was very consistent in writing, but over the past couple of years I have written very seldom. I figured I should go ahead and write about what I have been doing over the past year so I have it to look back on. I decided to read the last entry I had written, which was dated June 18, 2016. This is what some of it said:

I have been really struggling the past few weeks. I don’t know what to do. I know the things I believe are true regarding the gospel but I also know the feelings that I have in other areas of my life. I don’t understand how to feel or what to think and even though those feelings are only a small part of who I am, they are controlling my thoughts. I need God’s help but I don’t feel like I deserve it. It is said that we are not given more than we can bear, but it certainly doesn’t feel like this is something I can bear forever

Holy cow. The person I was one year ago feels like a total stranger to me. I still have struggles and doubts and there are forever going to be days when I don’t know if things are going to be okay. But wow, how things have changed. And for the better! I am now able to wake up everyday and feel good about who I am. I feel so much more balance, and peace and love in my life as I have learned to be honest with myself and with those around me.

But it wasn’t like moving to Lynchburg was the magic key to make everything better. This ability to stand proudly as a person has come from all of the people and places I have encountered along the way. It has come from allowing myself to take risks and to focus on how I can live this life instead of just get through it. I could probably have written a post similar to this every time I have moved or made a change in my life. And I think that is why I am okay with life changing so often. It’s true that a part of my heart is left in each place that I lived. There are parts in Nevada with my family and parts in Utah with my some of my best friends. There are even some parts in the little town of Rexburg, ID and now I prepare to leave some parts behind here in Lynchburg as my life continues to move forward to new things. But even though I have left so many pieces behind, my heart has grown and changed and, hopefully, become better.

I am grateful to no longer be in a state of “I don’t think this is something I can bear forever” but instead be in awe of what I am doing and where I am and what is coming next.  We live in a good world with good people and I am grateful to have woken up this morning to spend another day in it. I promise that things get better.

 

 

 

I am Mormon and I am Gay

I have been so afraid of what could happen if I wrote this post. But I’ve been learning over the past few months that fear shouldn’t and cannot be used as an excuse to not do something that you need to do. So here we go.

My name is Shannon. And I’m gay.

I’ve known for as long as I can remember that the way I felt toward other girls was maybe a little bit different than most. I wouldn’t have labeled myself as gay, but there was definitely something extra that I felt. Honestly, I just thought I really wanted to be friends with certain people for some reason. And so, beyond knowing that I was maybe different, there wasn’t much that happened, in terms of expressing my sexuality, for the majority of my life growing up. I did what I was told to do: go to school, work hard, and go on dates with different guys. But there was something missing, and I never felt fully at peace.

During college, I started to notice these feelings towards other girls more and more and I tried to run as hard and as fast as I could away from those feelings. I grew up learning that it was wrong and that if I allowed myself to give into those feelings and desires that I would be living in sin. So I moved from city to city and then from state to state to try and escape being gay. But no matter how far I moved, or which school I attended, or the type of people I surrounded myself with, it never went away and at the end of every day I was still gay.

I believe it is a difficult thing for any person to go through, seeing as it is not the norm for society. For me, everything was made more difficult because I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, often known as the Mormon Church. Before I go on, please understand that I love this church. I love what it stands for, and I love the people that are a part of it. It has allowed me to come to know my Savior, Jesus Christ, and my Heavenly Father and the love that they have for me as a child of God. It has played an extremely important role in my life and I don’t mean to degrade it simply because I don’t understand or agree with some things.

But it is difficult for me to sit in church on Sunday or in an institute class during the week and speak about eternal marriage with a future husband when I am wanting to date girls. And it is hard to sit there and discuss the topic of homosexuality and have people who don’t experience it make comments about simply choosing to live the gospel instead of acting on those feelings. Until you experience it yourself, it is impossible to understand the magnitude of divide that there is in your life. When your brain tells you one thing based on all the church lessons you have heard growing up but your heart tells you another thing because you find the girl in your class really attractive, there is not an easy choice.

Last year, I decided to move to the east coast. I chose to do so in order to attend school and see a new place. But I also did it in order to get away from the life I had known, and have the opportunity to decide who I really wanted to be. I debated for days and weeks and months on what I would or would not allow myself to do. Ultimately, I found a place in my life where I was able to accept another part of me, and I also had found a person that allowed me to give and receive love, and to feel both understood and accepted for who I am. And because of both of those, I am able to write this and post this and let others see me for who I am. It is often said that you cannot love others until you learn to love yourself. But I find that a little misleading, because as I am given the opportunity to love others, I am in turn learning to love myself more and better.

Now, my life continues to have a divide. My beliefs and my feelings are at odds with each other, and I can’t seem to find a way to have both sides be fully at peace. In other posts on this blog I have written about the goodness of God that I have found despite the trials that I go through. And I can continue to say that He is still good. Sometimes life doesn’t feel good, when my heart feels broken and my hope seems to run thin and the path ahead looks cloudy. Yet in those moments, as I continue to learn to trust God in both the big and small things of my life, I know that things will work out. Eventually my heart will heal, and my hope will be renewed, and the path ahead will be lit up, if even just for a moment.

Being gay isn’t all that I am, and I don’t want it to be the focus point of my life. I think that it is less important to focus on what I am, and more important to focus on what I do. And as I continue through my life, what I want to do is continue to grow into a better friend, and daughter, and sister, and person. I want to continue to learn and improve my life and hopefully leave some good behind in whatever places and people I meet along the way.  But still, this topic is important to talk about and it is important for people to know that they aren’t alone in the fight. You can call or text or facebook message me, whatever works. I am here for you, and I’m grateful that many of you will be here for me. Life is hard and it’s unclear a lot of the time. And I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little bit scared of what the future does or doesn’t hold for me. But I’m also really excited because I know there are good things ahead. These aren’t the cards I would have chosen, but they are the cards I was given and it’s up to me to make the best of them.

Rain or Shine

It didn’t snow this week! For the first time in the two months that I have been in Rexburg, we had sunshine for more than one day during the week. In fact, we had sunshine almost every single day! People were wearing T-shirts, going to the park, and enjoying the sunshine. Even though the highs were only in the upper 30’s, it feels like a beautiful spring day when all you have been experiencing are gloomy, 15 degree days for the majority of the time. I believe that the things around us are often a reflection of the things that happen within us.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that because it’s been gloomy for the past two months that my life has been horrible for the past two months. But it does mean that just like the weather, my life has times of gloom and times of sunshine. It also means that the God who created the earth, with all of its seasons and different weather patterns, also created me. And because of that knowledge, I can also be sure that God is aware of me. Sometimes this awareness seems so distant or, for the moment, gone. In fact, I have at certain times felt that God had forever abandoned me. But in those gloomy time, the sunshine always came back.

One of my favorite types of weather is rain. I love the way it makes the earth smell,the fact that it doesn’t stick around forever like snow, and the way that it makes everything clean again. I have seen rain when I have been happy, and sad, and elated, and angry. But I have specifically seen rain on almost every occasion in the last year when I have felt overwhelmingly sad. Now, maybe this is just a coincidence. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe God is saying “Shannon, I know you are sad. But I am here. I haven’t left you, and I never will.” Just like the rain always clears and the sun eventually comes out, those times of tremendous sadness and grief have consistently been replaced with joy and with peace.  I can promise that God is saying this to each and everyone one of us. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). This means that He loves everyone equally, and doesn’t see one person as greater than the next. If this wasn’t true why would I, a college student in a small town with a lowly job and no high calling in life, be given the aid of a God who had created all the earth? That doesn’t make sense. God knows ME, He loves ME, and He watches out for ME. And He does the same for every single person.

“If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong” (Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p.46). I don’t know how to live a life without gloomy days. And I don’t know how to make the best of those gloomy days. But I do know that they end. That sunshine comes. And that things will always work out.

Until Seventy Times Seven

It is such a blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of second chances. And of third chances and fourth chances and so on. When Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, He knew all too well that I would repeatedly make the same mistakes. That despite my desire to “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect” (Matt 5:48), I still fall short of that goal each and every day. Yet He still suffered for me. He still bled at every poor and He still was beaten and bruised and He still hung on the cross for me. And for all of us. Sometimes life seems like such a daunting task. We are commanded to become perfect, to obey the commandments with exactness (Alma 57:1). But as imperfect humans, how is it fair to ask this of us? In one of my previous posts, I focused on the story of the rich man who was unwilling to give up his riches in order to inherit eternal life. Unfortunately the rest of the man’s story is left untold and I am not sure what happened to him during the rest of his life. But what I do know is that his response to that question from Christ wasn’t the last chance he had. His entire life was likely filled with opportunities and chances to change his mind, to give up his riches and return to live with God. What a dreary world it would be if we were all judged off of our first response to everything. But what a glorious world it is because we get a second and third and fourth and however many chances it takes. Certainly we can’t purposefully disobey the commandments of God and then turn around and repent and expect to be made clean. But as we earnestly try to become better, our Savior will be right along side us to buoy us up when we start to sink again. Because He has commanded us to forgive others “not until seven times but until seventy times seven” I can only believe that He would forgive us even more than that (Matt 18). I testify that God, and His son, Jesus Christ, love us. That They know us individually and personally. That They knew we would need a Savior and that Christ came to this earth in order to save us. I know that He gives us the chances that we need, and the help that we need. I have felt the redeeming power of God in my life. I know that we are not alone in this fight. “For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88).

One Time Savior

During this time of year, people are more drawn to the story of Christ’s birth. Similarly, during Easter people are drawn to the death and resurrection of Christ. While these two moments in history are clearly very defining and instrumental to the plan of God, isn’t Christ so much more than just His birth and death? The atonement of Jesus Christ, most often associated along with His death and resurrection, was perhaps the most important act in all of history, for it gave me and everyone of us the chance to return to live with God despite our shortcomings. Yet, there is still so much more to Christ. He had a whole life filled with miracles and teachings. Perhaps a few of these moments from His life can help us better understand what Jesus was really all about. For after all, “he that saith he abideth in him ought himself also to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6).
Because of the state of the world in which we live in, there are certain aspects I want to focus on in relation to the life of Jesus. First, He taught about peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace that is available through Jesus Christ is unlike anything else. Surely we may have moments of peace when our children stop screaming, our homework is finally complete, or we see a beautiful sunset. Yet these moments of peace are so fleeting. The peace of Jesus is everlasting. Although there may be turmoil throughout the world that surrounds each of us, we can feel peace inside our hearts as we continually hold to Christ and to his gospel.
Second, Jesus taught us to endure to the end. At first sight, this phrase seems very daunting and gives the implication that life isn’t anything enjoyable if we simply have to endure the whole time. However, that is the opposite of the truth. The plan of salvation, the plan that God has for each of us, is often referred to as the plan of happiness. This happiness is not only achieved once we return to live with God, but is available yesterday, today and forever. 2 Timothy 2:3 says “thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”. Then in James, it is said that “we count them happy which endure” (5:11). Surely there will be days, weeks, or years of our lives where we must endure through times of sadness, anger, loneliness, and other trials. Yet as we endure, with the trust that God is by our side and will not forsake us, we shall be saved from our afflictions (Matthew 24:13).
Third, Jesus taught us how to love. He gave us the commandment to love one another in John 15:12. Perhaps this is one of the most controversial subjects today between religious and secular groups. However, I believe we must remember that loving people doesn’t always mean we love what they do or how they act. Jesus Christ was the perfect example of love and dedication and everything else, but he wasn’t accepting of sin and he wasn’t going to condone that which was contrary to the will of God. In our minds we like to make Jesus to be what we want him to be, yet we have to know Him as He truly was in order to walk in his footsteps. In Matthew 21 He finds many people selling and buying in the temple of God,  place that is sacred and holy. Yes He loves these people, but He also has to stand for what is right and he “went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves”. Just two verses later in that same chapter in Matthew, Christ heals the blind and the lame. We must be loving towards our fellow men, whether or not we agree with what they do. But we must also stand for what is right. Surely the grace and mercy of God is available for all to use, but we were sent to this earth in order to prove ourselves. We were sent here to show that despite the temptations and trials that beset us we are willing to live a life of righteousness in order to return back and live with God. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8). Our lives must align with the word of God, not the other way around.
I know that Jesus Christ lives today. I am grateful for His birth and I am grateful for His death and resurrection. But I am grateful that He woke up everyday and went forth among the people teaching and healing and acting in the name of God. I love Jesus Christ for everything He has done for me, but I also love Him specifically for the reason that He was a Savior every single day, He was a Redeemer every single day, and He continues to do so even so many years later. Because He wasn’t a one time Savior, I know I can’t be a one time Christian, or a Christmas season Christian. It has to be a choice that is made everyday. Daily effort to walk as Jesus walked will make the difference in my life and in others’ lives. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Stop Dragging Fred

There is a story about a man who returns home from a day of golfing. His wife asks how the day went and he responds that it went well, except that Fred passed out on the second hole. The man’s wife looked scared and asked “oh my goodness! Is Fred OK?”. “Yes he’s fine”, replied the husband, “but it was such a bother. Every hole it was hit the ball, drag Fred. Hit the ball, drag Fred”.

So often we are unwilling to let go of our expectations. We drag them around with us even though it makes the situation harder than it has to be. We have expectations for almost everything in our lives; how our jobs will be, how our holiday meals will turn out, how our date with the cute guy from math class will go, how our spring break vacation will go, and a million other things. Yet for me, I find myself creating expectations most often for my friends, and for how our friendships will be.

For a variety of reasons, I have a hard time letting relationships, especially friendships, go. I want to be a good friend, a great friend, and I want to be able to be that forever. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse, but it’s definitely something that has come to my attention in recent years. The golden rule says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But I have a hard time drawing the line at where I continue to be a friend regardless of the other person’s willingness to also be a friend. A real friendship requires two people, but shouldn’t I still be kind and be good even if it isn’t reciprocated?

I’m most surely not the prime example of how to show love to others. My sarcastic nature can often come off to people as a bit mean if they don’t know me. But I do try to show love to those in my life through the ways I know how. I don’t always know what words to say to help someone through something, but I can always listen. I will drive however far away in order to be with someone when they need it. I will give up extra study time, or a soccer game, or anything of that nature, because a person to be loved is often more important than anything else I could be doing. As I began to try harder over the last couple of years to express my love for my friends in both word and deed, I often became frustrated when those same things weren’t reciprocated. My expectations of how they should act were based on what I was willing to do for them, and if they didn’t show love for me in the same ways, it was as if they didn’t show it at all.

One day I came across a quote that changed my perspective on this very topic that I was struggling with. The unknown author said “Just because somebody doesn’t love you the way you want them to, doesn’t mean they don’t love you with all they have”. Holy cow. How often was I limiting the love I could have been receiving simply because I was unwilling to accept the type of love they were trying to give me? When I returned to Utah for the months of August and September, I felt that I got the most out of the friendships that I had there. I saw different friends on a consistent basis, was being invited to attend more events, and I felt loved. Learning to let people love me however they choose to do so is hard, but dragging around my expectations of how they should love me is even harder. Maybe our bestfriends are only our bestfriends for a time, and maybe that hilarious guy from my intramurals team won’t want to be my friend, and maybe I will lose other friends. But maybe that’s OK.

It is important to be brave, to be kind, and to love. But it is also important to stop dragging Fred. He can show up in our lives in many different ways. As we let go, our arms will be rested, our eyes will be opened, and the beauty of what life really is will be so exhilarating. My favorite poet, Tyler Knott Gregson wrote:

We are half people and we will stay half people until we stop wishing for wishes that have already been granted.

And I would add, perhaps we will stay half people until we learn to live our lives for what they truly are.

Re: What is Your Prison?

One of my friends posted recently about the prisons that we are all stuck in, and the fact that many of us may share the same cells. If you want to hear her own words, click here. Basically, her church group is studying the letters of Paul, that he wrote while he was in prison. While trying to find some correlation between Paul and herself, she found that she has her own metaphorical prisons that she is stuck in. She challenged us to think about the prisons in our own lives, and then to write about it. So even though it’s a little late, here I go.

There are many challenges in my life that come from my own doing. Some of these are little fences that I can hop over and move on from, but some are metal bars that hold me in. And just like a repeat offender, I end up behind those same metal bars time after time, despite my desire to move forward and leave prison behind. In the New Testament, a young man asks Christ what he must do to inherit eternal life. Christ tells the man that he must keep the commandments to which the man responds that he has kept the commandments since he was young. Christ then tells him to sell all that he has, give to the poor, and then he will inherit eternal life. Unfortunately, the man “was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). One thing. The young man was asked to do one more thing in order to inherit eternal life, the greatest blessing of all. Yet that one thing was something he wasn’t willing, at least at that time, to do. Perhaps I am in the same prison as this young man. No, I don’t have great possessions, but I do have things in my life that I am not always willing to give up, even if it means I will gain something greater in return. I want people to think highly of me, to think I’m funny, and that I’m athletic, that I’m smart, and that I can handle anything that comes at me without getting angry or shedding a tear. But is this really who I am? Are these ideals helping me to become who I actually want to be? At first glance, they don’t look so bad. But when I make a joke that puts someone down in an effort to get laughs out of people,or when I continue to study or to workout instead of heeding a prompting I have to help someone, I actually drive myself further away from where I want to be and I find myself once again behind prison walls. Not only do both of these situations cause others to be hurt, but I delay my own progression as well. I can still be funny, smart, athletic, and strong without being mean and without letting myself me imprisoned. It all comes down to what I am willing to give up in order to follow Christ. In Christ there is freedom, there is grace, and there is mercy, none of which can be found in a prison cell. “For with God, all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). May we all have the strength to let go of those things holding us back with the knowledge that God will replace them with things much greater.

What’s a Life Plan?

Leaving my hometown of Gardnerville, NV and heading somewhere totally different and making a new life for myself was what I had always dreamed of. But when the tuition was too expensive and the money didn’t come through, my plans had to change. This was,unknowingly, the first of many changes in my plans that would take place over the next three years. I ended up going to Utah State University Eastern, a little shootoff of Utah State University, located in Price, UT. I met good people, and I enjoyed the first semester, but I didn’t feel like it was right for me. When spring semester came around, I had moved to Salt Lake City and was attending LDS Business College. The second change. This semester was really good and really hard all at the same time. I met friends that still remain some of my closest friends today, I had a really good job as a nanny, my brother and sister-in-law lived 15 minutes from me, and I did very well in school. Yet despite these truths, I felt alone. And little did I know, that feeling of loneliness would linger for the next few years. The next semester I began attending the University of Utah, still in Salt Lake City. This was my plan all along once I decided to move to Salt Lake so we won’t count this as a change. This school was good to me. I found the major I was interested in, found good people, and I learned a lot. Yet outside of school, I still felt lost. Fast forward to the end of 2014 and I am applying to transfer to a different school in Utah, but I end up staying at the U because things weren’t working out with the transfer. Go six more months down the road and I decide to live at home for the summer, the first time I’ve been at home for more than a week in three years. 3 more months go by, I’m living back in Utah and I decide Im going on a mission. Change number 3. One month later, I decide I’m not going on a mission, I’m transferring to Brigham Young University-Idaho. Change number 4. I move home again, find out I am accepted to BYUI, accept the offer, and here we are today. January 2013 through October 2015 have been the hardest years of my life. The constant longing for change and for the feeling that I belonged and that I was wanted resulted in moving houses 5 times, attending 3 different schools, meeting a ton of different people, and spending many nights crying out to God to help me feel OK. I’ve never been one to show any emotion. My roommate actually sometimes reminded me that I needed to learn how to show emotion and share my feelings (I’m still trying to figure that out). But when the weight of everything feels too heavy to carry any longer, I couldn’t help but let the tears fall onto my pillow as I begged for these trials to be removed from my life. For my entire life I’ve been taught that there’s a God in Heaven who hears my prayers, who loves me, and who will answer me when I pray. But why was I continuing to feel this way? Why did all the plans I made for my life, even though they were good things, never seem to workout? Why did I fight so hard to make lasting friendships when they slipped away so easily? Why did I work and try to save money, but my bank account was dwindling anyways? Why was I not being blessed with opportunities to date and find “the one” like so many other people were, and like I’ve been taught that I should? So many questions filled my mind and sorrowed my soul for so long. Yet in these moments, and throughout these years, my questions were being answered, my plans were being bettered, and my heart was being strengthened. I would never wish to once again feel that pain for such an extended time, but I will forever thank my Heavenly Father for placing his hand in my life. From these three years I can pinpoint exact times where I learned the lessons that I need for the rest of my life.

January 2013: I learned that my Savior, Jesus Christ, is my friend. He stayed with me when I had no one else, and he stayed with me when I was surrounded by people.

August 2014: I learned that the atonement of Jesus Christ is real. Making mistakes is an inevitable part of our mortal existence, but being forgiven for those mistakes is possible. I fought long and hard to learn this lesson, and I continue to see the grace of God work in my life as I strive to become better.

June 2015: God knows what we need more than we know what we need. Coming home was exactly what I needed, and I was able to return to Utah with a new attitude and outlook.

November 2015: There is a plan for my life, and it is perfect.

I think oftentimes our minds are blocked by our own pride. We believe we know all things, and we don’t need the help of anyone else, much less from God. Yet in those moments of frustration and sadness and loneliness it is to God that we cry out for. We so badly want Him to help us in our low moments, but forget Him in our good times. I’m grateful that He is an unchanging God. That despite my imperfections and my struggles, He loves me. That even if I run away from Him and distance myself from His spirit, He continues to place his hand in my life and lead me back to where I need to be. The grace of God and of His son, Jesus Christ is the power through which I continue to be OK. I’m trying to be good, but I strive to be better, so that the power of Christ can work more fully through me and I can help others find that same power in their own lives. I don’t know what change is going to occur next, but I know I can trust God to lead me. I know He loves me. I know that He will never leave me. Maybe my plans never workout, but maybe that’s the best thing to ever happen to me.