Rising Above the “War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”

Rising Above the “War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”

Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration, grew up in a time of great religious fervor. In his hometown the various religious sects—Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian—were engaged in a great effort to convince the masses to join their religion. While the clergy of each sect professed to allow each person the right to “join what sect they pleased”, as converts began to join the various congregations, “priests [contended] against priest, and convert against convert” (JS History 1:6). A general sense of chaos and confusion ensued which Joseph described as a “war of words and tumult of opinion” (JS History 1:10).

A Modern-Day War of Words

I think that those words—“a war of words and tumult of opinion”—very accurately describe the response and dialog I have seen in society today regarding the topics of homosexuality (same-sex attraction) and gender identity. Recently, these topics have been in the forefront of our news cycles—the United States Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, the JONAH trial, the Caitlin Jenner story, and the Boy Scouts of America’s new policy regarding gay leadership. As each of these stories broke, it seemed that my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with conflicting “facts” and opinions. Sadly, in many of these discussions I’ve observed much harshness, even hatred.

Like Joseph, as I’ve watched this chaos and confusion unfold I asked myself, “What is to be done?” (JS History 1: 10). For quite some time I pondered and struggled to understand who was right and who was wrong. As a leader within North Star I felt it was important that I had a “clear stance” on the subject. I began to get very frustrated as it seemed my prayers to God were going unanswered.

I decided that maybe I was approaching this topic from the wrong perspective. Instead of focusing so much on who was right, maybe the better question I should be asking was “What is my role in all of this?” It turns out the answer to that question has changed my life and informed my view of what I believe our Heavenly Father would have each of us do as members of the North Star community, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the world.

Our Role as Peacemakers

My dear friends, the world desperately needs the eternal perspective of the plan of salvation. Within the context of the LGBT community, these beloved children of our Heavenly Father need to understand that God is real, that they are His sons and daughters, that He has a plan for their lives, and that this plan will bring them eternal joy and allow them to reach their divine potential. Without this perspective and vision there is no motivation for these precious children of God to make the positive changes in their lives that lead to a deep and lasting relationship with Him.

These sons and daughters of God need a safe, welcoming place where they can begin to learn these important truths. That is where we come in. I feel passionately that there should be no place safer, more loving, more welcoming than the home of a Latter-day Saint or a LDS chapel. When a gay or lesbian couple feels the desire to connect with God, their Mormon friends should immediately come to mind as a place they can turn to. They should be able to look into our eyes and see the image of Christ reflected in our countenance.

Realistically, we have much work to do in order to accomplish this vision. Many members of the LGBT community have felt marginalized, attacked or judged by professed Christians. The way forward is clear. Our Savior taught us the following:

Blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. […] Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. […] Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (3 Nephi 12: 9, 13, 16)

Surely we as God’s children with a unique, personal understanding of sexuality, gender identity and the gospel of Jesus Christ should be at the forefront of extending light, love, compassion, and mercy to all of God’s children—especially those in the LGBT community. As we extend this love, the Holy Spirit of God will begin to heal hearts and enlighten minds.

Two Principles of Love

I want to share you with two key principles that we can begin working on today that will help us extend love and light to God’s children.

(1) Learn to love those who have different beliefs or opinions than you.

Article of faith eleven states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping the Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may.” One of the core tenants of our faith is agency. In fact, it was so important that it was at the center of the war in heaven that was fought long ago. It is through the exercise of agency that we can grow and progress toward our eternal destiny.

That means God has given to each of His children the opportunity to form their own beliefs and value system. Sometimes, the beliefs of others (whether religious or political) will conflict with yours. That is completely okay! Some of the most meaningful relationships I have in my life are with people who believe very differently than me on various topics. I have learned how to appreciate their perspective and look for the core principles we share—even when we disagree on how to live those principles.

(2) Learn to love those who make different choices than you.

When I think about the Savior’s life, it always amazes me how much time He spent with people who were marginalized and ostracized—people who the religious order of the day deemed as “sinners”. The Savior knew how to make people feel loved. That love inspired others to be their best selves.

Personally, one of my most freeing experiences was when I decided to leave judgment to the Savior. He knows the minds, hearts, and experiences of God’s children personally—He suffered individually for each of them. I know that with my limited knowledge and imperfect perspective it is impossible for me to completely understand someone’s actions and life choices. My focus has transitioned to loving people and leaving judgement in the Savior’s hands. This shift has led to many rich relationships which bring me great joy.

Conclusion

In summary, it is my sincere hope that we can rise above the “war of words and tumult of opinions” to a higher cause. I believe that God desperately needs us to shine forth a light of love within the North Star community, our wards, and the world at large. He needs us to learn how to love those who may believe or act differently than we do. As we extend Christ-like love to others, the Spirit of God can descend upon those with whom we associate. That Spirit can provide an eternal perspective which helps others see their worth and develop a closer relationship with God the Father.

May we live the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that inspires God’s children to be their best selves—especially those in the LGBT community. I testify that miracles await as we go forth to accomplish this noble mission. Hearts will be healed; relationships will be mended; eternal destinies will be altered. I love you all so very much, and I look forward to joining with you in this noble effort.

North Star’s New Leadership Structure is Taking Us to the Next Level

North Star’s New Leadership Structure is Taking Us to the Next Level

If you’ve been watching our Leadership Team web page over time, you’ll have seen a lot of changes over the past few years. We totally reorganized North Star in late 2013, and fully digesting and implementing those changes has been a multi-year effort. I thought I’d take a moment in this month’s Director’s Message to explain what these changes mean to the purpose and future of North Star.

The first thing that you’ll notice on our Leadership Team page is how many more people are leaders at North Star. As we’ve been able to find and nurture talented people, we’ve been able to do more. That shows up as a broader and deeper organization. Over the past year or two, you’ve seen us deepen our resources and ministry to the LDS transgender community, as well as expand our outreach internationally, as well as solidify the many other things we’ve been doing for years. There is much more to do of course, in these areas and many others. Following the success of our first annual conference—an effort  that required an incredible amount of heart, time and other resources to put together—we grew even more with our second conference this last April.

Until August of 2013, North Star had a smaller and flatter structure, where executive functions as well as supervision and governance were vested in a single body, the Executive Committee. Our new bylaws adopted at that time split those two functions, which provides greater autonomy to individuals within a growing organization while at the same time ensuring proper oversight and unified policy-making. We adopted a structure used in many corporations and non-profits, which have a Board of Directors (and Officers), who then appoint the executives, which we refer to collectively as the Executive Committee. At North Star, this is composed of our President and Vice Presidents, who then appoint and oversee all the Directors and Coordinators. Together, the executives and those they appoint are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the organization. These are the “doers” who keep the organization functioning.

Because these were new people in new functions, when we appointed Ty Mansfield as President and he appointed the rest of his Executive Committee, the Board decided to give the new Executive Committee as much visibility as possible when they were appointed. The members of the Board of Directors, who were appointed at about the same time (except myself) as the new president and executive committee were announced, stayed in the background to make sure that the Executive Committee’s contributions were recognized, and that they were properly introduced to the community without the new Board appointments distracting from that.

Since the Board did its work quietly and in the background while the new executive committee was off and running, there was some confusion about the Board of Directors. Who were we and what were we supposed to be doing? The Board of Directors is composed of 3-9 independent directors, whose responsibility is to set and approve policy, approve budgets and major initiatives, and to adopt procedures that ensure North Star complies with all relevant laws and regulations, and ensure to the best of our ability that the members of the organization adhere to the highest ethical and moral standards. We govern by consensus and avoid making decisions until we can come to agreement and compromise. Since we are independent directors from diverse backgrounds with varying opinions, it means that we may sometimes take a while to make decisions. That is by design, since the Board of Directors is intended to be the main deliberative body at North Star.

There are currently eight members of the Board of Directors (including Ty because the currently serving President automatically has a Board seat), whom you can read about here. The Board of Directors constitutes the ultimate governing body of the organization, and the organization’s bylaws, as well as federal and state laws, hold the Board of Directors legally responsible for what happens within the organization.

The Board of Directors is the eyes and ears of the organization; the Executive Committee is the hands and feet. Another to think of it is the Executive Committee’s job is to worry about the next 12 months, whereas the Board of Directors should be worrying about the next several years. Both of these explanations are an oversimplification, especially as we have been setting things up. Board members may undertake specific assignments to assist the organization, and Executive Committee members have had a great deal of influence on policy and governance especially in this early time of our reorganization. And the Board will always be eager to entertain proposals and concerns from the Executive Committee as well as the rest of North Star leadership and community. We try to do this in a way that doesn’t interfere with or “micromanage” the Executive Committee and those they supervise, though there are occasionally growing pains as we are learning our respective roles.

What does this mean for you? I see two major points that are useful for everyone to understand. First, North Star is growing and maturing, and with that we are able to do more than ever before. Secondly, you have many different people to take your concerns and ideas to. I am confident I speak for all of us within the leadership of North Star when I say that we are open to and eager to receive input from all of you, within and without the organization, to help us better fulfill our mission.

I am so humbled and grateful for the incredible time and creativity so many people have put into this organization. As one who was there at this organization’s founding, it’s been exciting to see how it has grown, and how much it owes to the tireless service of so many. But this is only the beginning. With more people than ever involved in North Star, with more diverse talents and networks to draw upon, I can hardly wait to see what exciting progress we’ll be making in the years to come.

Check Your Motivation

Check Your Motivation

I was 22 (the internationally recognized age of readiness to assume the role of fatherhood) when I had my first son, George (important note: I made that readiness thing up…it’s a miracle he has survived to be 8). When he was 2 years old, we were driving to Lindsay’s parents house on a Sunday afternoon and listening to the soundtrack to Pride and Prejudice. If you are familiar with this soundtrack at all, you know that it has a lot of really beautiful songs featuring the piano. During one particular song (“Liz On Top of the World” for those of you who are actually familiar) the piano starts out quiet and simple and slowly swells into a beautiful/dramatic melody accompanied by various string instruments. At this moment, I looked in the rear view mirror at George and saw that he had tears streaming down his chubby little cheeks. Unsure about what had upset him, I asked out loud, “what’s wrong George?” He smiled, and while wiping the tears from his cheeks he said, “Happy song!”

Yeah. Our 2 year old had just been moved to tears by an instrumental song. Lindsay and I were 90% cute-ed out and 10% weirded out.

A couple years later, a cello teacher acquainted with my wife’s family was so thrilled about his excitement for music and his desire to play the cello that she started teaching him and he has been taking cello lessons since then.

George is such a fun kid in so many ways, and I don’t know what I did to have been blessed with such a naturally wonderful and talented child. If there was one thing I would change about him it would be his tendency toward perfectionism (this change being made for his sake more than mine, of course). This perfectionism has reared its head in various ways throughout his life, and playing the cello is one of these ways. However, at a recent lesson, George had somewhat of a break-through.

He was getting frustrated with himself for messing up several times while playing his newest song. This is pretty typical when he is presented with a new song, and we have had to have discussions with him about the importance of being patient with himself and remind him that he felt this way about the last song, “and look how awesome you play that song now!” After several attempts and obvious frustration, the teacher stopped.

“George, I want you to forget all about getting the notes right. I want you to forget about making sure that your doing the right fingers and the right bowing. All I want you to think about making beautiful music, and how much you love music.”

He played through the whole song with no problem, and played through all of his other songs with more beautiful tone than he ever had before. He teared-up (as he often does when he feels the spirit) and suddenly that 2 year old little chubby-faced music lover shone through!

His experience was a perfect example of something that I have been thinking a lot about lately, something that I feel has made all of the difference for me.

Life is so much more joyful when we are motivated by working for something we love, rather than by working against something we hate.

George was dedicated to practicing that song, working really hard to get it right. However, a closer look at his motivation indicated that he was focused on his great dislike for imperfection, rather than being motivated by his profound love of beautiful music. When his motivation changed, it became easy and joyful.

Living the gospel opens doors to incomprehensible blessings…but sometimes…it’s just the worst. Right?! It can get really difficult to maintain the faith required to sacrifice all the things that we are asked to sacrifice. Throughout the years of our life on Earth, our motivation to go to church, read our scriptures, say our prayers, pay our tithing, stay morally clean, etc. can wax and wane a lot. Doing what is right can get extremely taxing.

I have had several conversations with members of the North Star community with people who have made the choice to devote their lives to living the gospel (“Awesome! Me too!”). When we get to talking about reasons for this choice, often times people will say things about how they “can’t imagine anyone could really be happy in a gay lifestyle.” They might talk about how the gay community is full of immoral and unhappy people, and there is no commitment or real love to be found there. They find much of their motivation to stay active in the gospel from focusing on how awful or scary the alternative would be.

It isn’t my purpose in this discussion to comment on whether or not those beliefs about the gay community are true, but rather to suggest that regardless of whether or not they are true, it is focusing on something you want to avoid, rather than on what it is we love.

It has been my experience that when we are motivated by anxiety, fear, or hate, these efforts are often short-lived and insecure. We have a lot of passion heading into it, but slowly things become tiring and the negativity or criticism becomes difficult to carry. We start wondering if the things we are working so hard against are really all that bad, and often we end up giving up the fight. Fighting is exciting…but fighting is hard.

In contrast, when we are motivated by love, hope, and gratitude, it is easier to see that the difficulties we experience along the way might serve a purpose. We open our hearts to strength from God because he is the reason we do what we do. We are easier to forgive ourselves and see the good in others and this viewpoint strengthens our resolve to continue our chosen path.

I have a long way to go as I try to apply this concept. I’ll admit it, I only workout ’cause I hate being fat, I sometimes give my kids candy ’cause I hate hearing them whine, I only ever drive the speed limit if I’m scared that a cop might be close…I’m not perfect.

However, my life became a whole lot easier when I supplied my motivation to live the gospel, not from fear that God would punish me if I didn’t, but from my love for him and subsequent desire to do as he asks.

I know about the Atonement, but how can I apply it to me?

I know about the Atonement, but how can I apply it to me?

When I was released from the Stake Presidency I thought all my trials were over, at least anything major. I thought my wife Unhui and I would retire, serve missions and work in the temple in joy and happiness the rest of our days. The last thing I thought was that my same-sex attractions (SSA) would come flooding back into my life. How could they, I had carefully hidden them away, I had placed them so deep that for the past 25 years while serving the Lord with all my heart they hadn’t been anything but a small nuisance. But here they were as strong as or stronger than they had ever been. What was I to do?

For all those years I had learned and taught about the Savior, about His life, about His Gospel and the atonement. I had helped many others as they had personally learned about the love God had for them and how through the atonement they could overcome sin and find joy in becoming clean and whole again.

Now here I was still believing that just having SSA feelings and attractions was a sin–at least it was a sin for me. I found myself falling back into old addictive habits which only seemed to strengthen the attractions. I knew that through the Savior and His atoning sacrifice I could find hope, I could learn how to overcome these renewed addictions, I could learn how to love myself as I found a way to navigate life as a married gay man who wanted only to be righteous and good to my wife, my children, my grandchildren and to serve all of God’s children the rest of my days.

But how?

I would love to say I have it all figured out, that I have the easy answer, that if you just apply this one thing, that you will find yourself free of all the mortal challenges you are facing and that you will live in perfect joy and happiness the remainder of your earthly days. But that is not what this earthly experience is supposed to be. We learn through our hardships, we learn through our trials and when we learn to place our sins, trials and the burdens of life on the Savior, that’s when we begin to feel peace and gain the strength to continue and to endure.

So where do we start? Elder Richard G Scott said:

“Despite all of the negative challenges we have in life, we must take time to actively exercise our faith. Such exercise invites the positive, faith-filled power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ into our lives. Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority” (“Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority,” October 2014 General Conference).

So what does it mean to exercise our faith? I have learned over the past several years that exercising my faith is so much more than just a belief that Christ died for me and that the atonement is real. It involves action, it involves work, and sometimes it involves getting up again after another failure and most importantly for me is a determination never to give up.

When I was in the Stake Presidency, we agreed upon a plan we called the “Coldwater Stake Family Plan.” It was simple but we felt it could be powerful in the lives of our members. I want to share it with you even as I have implemented it again into my life. Perhaps some of you are already doing many of these things, perhaps a few are even doing all of these things regularly, and some of you might be like I was and only brushing over them.

It was interesting to read Elder Scott’s talk in the last General Conference and find that what we taught as a stake presidency is what he taught and as I read it again I could feel the power that can come from exercising our faith in these simple steps. I will use his words.

Prayer

“The first tool is prayer. Choose to converse with your Father in Heaven often. Make time every day to share your thoughts and feelings with Him. Tell Him everything that concerns you. He is interested in the most important as well as the most mundane facets of your life. Share with Him your full range of feelings and experiences.

“Because He respects your agency, Father in Heaven will never force you to pray to Him. But as you exercise that agency and include Him in every aspect of your daily life, your heart will begin to fill with peace, buoyant peace. That peace will focus an eternal light on your struggles. It will help you to manage those challenges from an eternal perspective.”

I am learning how to communicate with my Father in Heaven continuously, when I find myself in sin, I immediately seek forgiveness even when I’ve made that same mistake many times. He is waiting to forgive, He is waiting to bless us with the Spirit again to give us more strength to overcome. I am learning to share everything with Him and its blessing my life immensely.

Scripture Study

“The second tool is to study the word of God in the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. We talk to God through prayer. He most often communicates back to us through His written word. To know what the voice of the Divine sounds and feels like, read His words, study the scriptures, and ponder them. Make them an integral part of everyday life.

“Don’t yield to Satan’s lie that you don’t have time to study the scriptures. Choose to take time to study them. Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games, or social media. You may need to reorganize your priorities to provide time for the study of the word of God. If so, do it!”

Then this promise:

“As you dedicate time every day, personally and with your family, to the study of God’s word, peace will prevail in your life. That peace won’t come from the outside world. It will come from within your home, from within your family, from within your own heart. It will be a gift of the Spirit. It will radiate out from you to influence others in the world around you. You will be doing something very significant to add to the cumulative peace in the world.

“I do not declare that your life will cease to have challenges. Remember when Adam and Eve were in the garden, they were free from challenges, yet they were unable to experience happiness, joy, and peace.7 Challenges are an important part of mortality. Through daily, consistent scripture study, you will find peace in the turmoil around you and strength to resist temptations. You will develop strong faith in the grace of God and know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ all will be made right according to God’s timing.”

Temple Attendance

“The third tool is to go to the temple. We all know there is no more peaceful place on this earth than in the temples of God. If you don’t have a temple recommend, qualify to get one. When you have a recommend, use it often. Schedule a regular time to be in the temple. Don’t let anyone or anything prevent you from being there.

“While you are in the temple, listen to the words of the ordinances, ponder them, pray about them, and seek to understand their meaning. The temple is one of the best places to come to understand the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Seek Him there. Remember that many more blessings come from providing your own family names in the temple.”

I know some of you might not currently be worthy to enter the temple, but we have the example of one of our North Star brothers who when he had been excommunicated from the Church would still attend the temple every week. Because he couldn’t enter past the front desk, he would sit in the waiting room and ponder upon the scriptures, and pour his heart out in prayer while his wife would attend a session. Brother Michael Packham and his wife, Ann, are now serving a mission. I well remember the glorious day he was again able to enter the temple and renew his covenants.

Family Home Evening

Even mentioning Family Home Evening might be painful for some of you, I know how much you desire to have a family and I also know it can be hard to hear that if you are not able to marry in this life, all those blessings will be given to you in the next life, if you live worthily. May I suggest that one way to live worthily and more happily is to do everything you can to prepare yourself to become a father and a husband even if that blessing doesn’t come in this life? Family home Evening can be a great blessing to all of us if we approach it in prayer and faith. While I served as Bishop I home taught several widows in our ward, one of them always held family home evening each Monday even though she had been all alone for more than 20 years. She would plan a lesson and then ponder upon the things she had learned, she would sing a hymn and have an opening and closing prayer. I think she even had a treat each week. She would share with me how blessed she felt when she would obey the counsel from the prophet to hold family home evening.

Elder Scott said,

“While you are working to strengthen your family and cultivate peace, remember weekly family home evening. Be cautious not to make your family home evening just an afterthought of a busy day. Decide that on Monday night your family will be together at home for the evening. Do not let employment demands, sports, extracurricular activities, homework, or anything else become more important than that time you spend together at home with your family.

“The structure of your evening is not as important as the time invested. The gospel should be taught both formally and informally. Make it a meaningful experience for each member of the family. Family home evening is a precious time to bear testimony in a safe environment; to learn teaching, planning, and organizational skills; to strengthen family bonds; to develop family traditions; to talk to each other; and more important, to have a marvelous time together!”

So how do I do it? How do I access the Atonement?

I exercise my faith through obeying the four simple steps listed above. I am finding the peace and love that can only come as I place my everything; my desires, hopes, fears, sins, inadequacies and my very will upon the Savior the World.

I invite you and hope you will join with me in exercising your faith as your first priority through doing your best to implement these four simple steps into your life.

I love the words that Brother Kevin Lindley used to close his essay in the book Voices of Hope, and I want to close with them.

“I know whatever my journey may hold in store for me, with His strength, grace and power, I can endure. No matter what happens—my fault, someone else’s fault, nobody’s fault—it doesn’t matter. The atonement can fix that too. It’s that simple.”

I am…

I am…

I adore the story Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss. The story is about “Sam-I-Am” and his unnamed friend. His friend adamantly proclaims that he does not like green eggs and ham throughout the book. As I travel with him on his personal journey, he seems to be desperate to convince Sam-I-Am how he feels about green eggs and ham.

“I do not like them in a box. I do not like them with a fox. I do not like them in a house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do NOT LIKE THEM, Sam-I-Am.”

Let’s imagine our little friend thinks he is a vegan. As I examine the narrative, it is similar to saying, “Look here, Sam-I-Am; I am a vegan, I have always been a vegan, I will forever be a vegan and since I will never be anything but a vegan, leave me alone!”

The appealing thing, to me, is that from page one he clearly labels himself as one thing; in the end he finds out (through a very long process and much understanding from Sam-I-Am) that he is actually quite another. In fact, he found not only that he was not a vegan but also that he had actually changed; he now liked eggs and ham!

He labeled himself one thing, and then later found out the label did not fit anymore. I can see this story in many ways, but mostly how I do evolve and change. How we can all, at one point in our journey, see ourselves as one thing, identify ourselves as something, and then later on have experiences that cause us to see ourselves in another light—a completely new manner. Our self-identity has changed.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

What we identify with most and what we see ourselves as, not only can change, but in fact—I personally believe, if it is different than what God sees us as and defines us as—it probably should change. There is a very good reason we do not redefine what God has already defined. He defines everything perfectly. As fallen and imperfect we cannot help but incorrectly define things. Indeed, we “see through the glass darkly.”

At times, we can become so closed-minded and cemented to an idea or identity that we not only label ourselves but also drive our tent stakes in so deep it makes it hard to move our tents to a better place when the time comes. Now, I must say, there is nothing wrong with identifying with one thing or another, for a season. It can be comforting to identify ourselves as this or that, but if, if that limits our view of our eternal identity, or hinders our progression towards our God-given potential, it is no longer helpful but limiting. I say, “don’t put me in a box and don’t label me, for as soon as you think you know me, I’ll change—and I want to change!” Are we not all morphing from what we think we are, to what God knows we are? Through the power and atonement of Christ, are we not all at liberty to choose what we become? I for one need the freedom to grow and change. It is not that the label, my understanding or what I identified with yesterday was wrong; it is only that my progression and new understanding of today is “current”—more real, more correct, more true to me. Satan would love me to believe I am powerless in the area of who I Am, or powerless over my actions based on my identity. Satan wants me to believe I cannot be whom my God knows I Am and wants me to be.

While I have many rolls in this life, such as artist, business person, volunteer, student, teacher, and gardener. And While I have many attributes desires and attitudes like— penitent, loving, kind, direct, inquisitive, hard working, ethical, moral, focused—and while I have many a propensity—candid, transparent, direct, creative—in all actuality, I Am that God says I Am. In all my “becoming” I must consider what will last through all the eternities. I am first and foremost a Child of God. We all are. I am a daughter, mother, wife, and friend. While I experience feelings like anger, and disappointment… I am not “Anger.” I am not “Disappointment.” I guess I have learned that though it is important to acknowledge how I am feeling, it does not make me that thing which I am feeling, not even that thing I am acting like. For instance, it is one thing to act like a jerk, quite another thing to be a jerk.

Clearly, I have been giving “I Am” a lot of thought lately. When I look up “I AM” on my scripture app., I found over 1000 reverences in the scriptures.

“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:13-14)

What we see ourselves as and identify ourselves ‘as’, are more profound than we know, both very powerful and very important.

I made a list entitled “I AM,” and so far there are 786 things on it. I went through the list and started prioritizing them in order of importance. Do you know what made the top of the list? Number one was, “I am a child of God”; number two was “I am loved by my Heavenly Father”; “I am penitent” was number three; and “I am forgiven” was number four. Following that was “I am redeemed,” “I am forgiving,” and so forth. It is motivating when I realized what items made the top of the list. Not one thing in the top 700 had anything whatsoever to do with my sexual orientation. When it comes right down to it, SSA is a small part of what I feel and no part of what I am.

I tell people, “I’m not broken, sick or lost so don’t try and fix me.” I have come to realize what I mean by this. While I am not broken, sick or lost in a way whereby any person can fix or heal me, I do, however, recognize that I am born into a fallen world, as all of God’s children are. Moreover, in my most humble moments I know that I am broken, I am lost, and I do need the Great Healer of all mankind. I need the Great Physician, the Savior of the world, even Jesus Christ. “There is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved in the kingdom of God.” (Based on Acts 4:12)

No, I am not a victim of my circumstance or my feelings. While being born into a fallen world I do not have to remain, forever, in a fallen state. I do not have to remain prisoner of my feelings or passions. I have power over all things not ordained of God. Knowing my Savior, obeying his commandments, and applying His Gospel is my only hope of making it through life, repaired, healed, and redeemed.

I pray we can see our true God-defined identity and that we will identify with it before all others. I hope we can be loyal to the royal birth of which we come. May we ever remember our Heavenly Father and feel His mighty power and love. Let us come to fully accept the greatest of gifts and allow Christ to heal us of all our sorrows, frailties, shortcomings, infirmity, heartaches, transgressions, and sins. The Great I AM knows who we are. I pray we all find that place of peace through the healing power of Christ, that we will forever reach out in love and service to one another.

Why Me?

Why Me?

There is a question with so many different answers: “Why am I attracted to the same sex?” Some find answers such as, “Because I’m gay. It’s the way God made me.” That may help them make sense of it all and reduce needless shame and self-blame.

Personally, I have found other answers with regard to same-sex attraction and “Why me?” Over the years, the answers have expanded in surprisingly glorious and Christlike ways. At this point in my life, I feel as though I have had such experiences that I may know how to succor certain people. I feel it has been a sacrifice I agreed to make premortally so that, in addition to helping with my own salvation and journey back Home, I would also be privileged to help others in a similar manner.

I do have a sense that “God made me that way.” By allowing me to experience same-sex attraction, He “made me” the type of person whose faith would be incredibly strengthened by sacrificing same sex relationships and by helping others who wish to do so.

It is a responsibility I hold sacred. I realize I am not always so good at it, but even as I seek to help, I find myself coming unto the Savior in more powerful ways. I suppose I should not be surprised to discover that my attempts at Christlike service help to make me more like Christ.

My same sex attraction and the Lord’s desire for me to be sealed to someone of the opposite sex for time and all eternity used to seem so dichotomous. Now, in retrospect, I see how those attractions have contributed so significantly to my spiritual growth and to my eternal marriage to a companion whom I dearly love. I cherish our relationship above all others, in addition to that of the Savior.

An Emphasis on Marriage and Family

I remember when it used to disturb me that there was so much emphasis on marriage and family within the LDS Church, especially when I was in lesbian relationships. when I left those relationships and returned to Church, the emphasis made more sense. Even though I was single and not attracted enough to men that I could marry one, I gained a strong testimony of its importance as I attended the temple on a regular basis. It was that very emphasis by the prophet and the apostles that helped to create a deep desire within me to marry a man and have a family—whether on earth or in heaven. I felt such desires long before I actually felt “attracted” to men. In other words, the desire was created spiritually within me before it was created temporally.

I know it doesn’t happen that way for everyone. A lack of desire for the opposite sex certainly does not mean someone isn’t trying hard enough. The Lord asks for our willingness and not always our ability. In my case, I provided the willingness and the Lord provided the ability.

I know that the emphasis on family and eternal marriage during this most recent conference was difficult for some people. I have felt that way in the past. However, this time I felt a surprising sense of strength, comfort and peace, rather than responding with resentment, criticism or doubt.

The last sentence of the North Star Values Statement is: “North Star testifies Jesus Christ has the power to reach and transform every life and every individual can find genuine peace and hope in the promises of His gospel.” Mission Statement

As we are obedient, as obedient as we can be at the time, the Lord transforms us in ways we may not expect. That does not mean marriage in this life is the only way a person can be truly obedient. Where we are currently in our journey is not nearly as important as the direction we are headed and whether or not we are doing all we can to be obedient.

Someone compulsively sexually acting out yet seeking to live the gospel, and working to improve, however fitfully and gradually, is welcome in North Star, so long as they can keep sexually appropriate with other North Star members. Whereas someone who isn’t acting out much at all, but seeking to justify what minor sins they have committed; or justifying their own disaffection by fault-finding with other members and Church leaders may be annoyed and frustrated by what we say and do at North Star.

Avoiding Justification

The old argument, that I’ve heard for 30 years now and even used myself at one time, is that LDS people attracted to the same sex should at least be allowed to hold hands, kiss, everything “except for sex” just like members outside of marriage in heterosexual relationships. The HUGE difference between the two relationships is that one leads people away from the goal of eternal life while the other leads them toward it. Acting on same sex feelings in a romantic way, even though those may be the only attractions one has, is still a sin. Now, if a person has previously been sexual and is working their way out of those relationships, that’s a different story. Then it might be more of a “transitional” phase.

Is the heterosexual dating vs. homosexual dating thing fair? Of course not, from an earthly perspective. From an eternal perspective, all of the challenges we face in life are fair.

If the Church leaders’ emphasis on the importance of marriage between a man and a woman and the fact that the doctrine isn’t changing turns some people off to North Star because we support what the leaders say in General Conference, we regret the loss. Of course I hope they return. Or decide to live the gospel more fully. But for every person that gets turned off by our support of the prophet and Church leadership, I have no doubt there are several others who are able to strengthen their own resolve to turn away from same sex relationships. People may decide to let go of the hope that the Brethren will change their minds, and find hope in Christ instead.

I don’t think we do anyone any favors by promoting the talk of a “change in policy” when that is not the doctrine of the Church.

The Promise of Hope

I especially loved Elder Holland’s recent conference address about depression. I have suffered with depression much of my life—some of it was related to same sex attraction and there were other causes as well, including a chemical imbalance. It was refreshing to hear Elder Holland speak of a time when he was depressed too. I found great comfort in hearing an apostle of the Lord say that. He has some excellent advice:

“So how do you best respond when mental or emotional challenges confront you or those you love? Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. As President Monson said to the Relief Society sisters so movingly last Saturday evening: ‘That love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.’ Never, ever doubt that, and never harden your heart. Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.” Holland

Confidence Waxing Strong As the prophet Joseph Smith stated in Lectures on Faith, one of the main components of faith is the knowledge that we are living the kind of life God wants us to live. I love that feeling, and it was further strengthened this past conference.
Having Church leaders remind us that the Lord does not want us to engage in inappropriate relationships also helps me rest assured that sacrificing lesbian relationships was one of the sacrifices the Lord truly required of me. I don’t have to worry that such a sacrifice would ever be for naught because God and his doctrines do not change.

“For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.” (Moroni 8:18)

I want everyone to come unto Christ. I want to come unto Christ in better ways today than I did yesterday. I say we can never go wrong, as a North Star organization, by following the counsel in General Conference. Otherwise, “to whom shall we go? [the Lord] hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)