The future is as bright as your hope

Someone during general conference said this. I think he was quoting President Monson, and I think the actual quote is “The future is as bright as your faith.”

The actual quote–in my limited experience–is 100% wrong. It adds to the confusion of hope and faith (which are separate and individual) without really helping the hearer understand what is meant.

Faith is necessary, of course. But if the future is to be bright, faith does not provide the light. It provides the why, not the means.

Hope provides the light. When languishing in darkness, faith can exist (for me it always did), but I was completely without hope. I had no light because I had no hope. Faith provided cognitive understanding of what God could do, but it provided no expectation that He would.

Let go and let God

Once upon a time, Nephi Guymon (yes that’s his real name, check out @nephiguymon on twitter, he’s freaking hilarious) and I were missionaries. On a daily basis, we offered hope to people who would accept additional truth in their lives.

We often met with a lady named Brenda. (There are tons of jokes that go with that, Nephi knows, but today is a serious memory of her.)

For the record, Brenda was more than a little off her rocker–in our naivete, we chose not to see that immediately–and had her brain more than a bit addled by prior drug use.

However, she’d often tell us “Let go and let God.” She’d just repeat it over and over. As a grammarian, I never really got it. Honestly, I still don’t. It is a phrase that needs completing: “let God ___[what?]___”

I’ve been thinking about the phrase recently. I’m not sure I understand it much better, but perhaps if I complete the phrase with “let God be in charge” it makes more sense.

The last ten months have been an exercise in this for me. I’ve had about zero control over the course of my life, and that has completely startled me and left me pretty without hope. Many times I’ve had to let go of the control I wanted to exercise and just let God ______. Honestly I have no idea what He’s done with the control I’ve given Him. I may not know for a while. But I know He does stuff. That’s the benefit of leaving the blank space; something is happening; I just have to trust it.

Some things have surfaced, so I could see what He’s done and some of the purposes of my endurance (I hate that word: “overcoming” is my goal), but much of the time I’m left with a blank in the “let God _____” category. I don’t know what He’s done.

So I say this different than did Brenda. Her phrase was final: “Let go and let God.” Mine is open-ended. Let go and let God ______.

Benefits of depression: Isolation of hope

Lots of scriptures reference faith, hope, and charity. Many talks from smart people also reference these three things. Charity is obvious, and Paul indicates in his epistle the the Corinthians, that charity is the greatest of these. 

However, I’ve rarely heard a good explanation of the difference between faith and charity. Often they come hand in hand or are referenced together. Nearly as often faith is referenced alone with no connection to hope. 

This inability to separate these two things–which was seriously bugging me around the end of 2012–caused me to make hope a subject of study for the first month of 2013. 

I’ve consistently been taught about hope since that time. For many months it was hope for certain things, for the last year or so, it’s been focused on maintaining any type of hope. 

As depression took over and darkness descended over me, I began to recognize the distinct separation between faith and hope. I had faith, I knew God could remove the horrible, smothering around me. He is omnipotent, He could do it. He is omniscient, He knew what I was going through. 

But I had no belief that He would. That lack of belief was the stark absence of hope. I knew release was possible, but I didn’t think it would come. I really knew it wouldn’t come. There was going to be no release from what I was in. 

At some point, that belief in the possibility of release grew. It was a slight point of light in the darkness of my future. Hope began to exist in my mind. I had a slight hope for some type of release, for salvation from the dark, musicless hell I was in. 

Hope didn’t grow quickly. Hope didn’t come except as I desired it. 

My faith never waivered. It wasn’t affected in the depth of what I experienced. 

Hope was nonexistent. Then I had a grain. Seeing that difference helped me realize how faith and hope are difference. 

My depression isolated hope from everything else. It helped me see how hope is expressly unique. 

Benefits of depression: Recognition of depth of faith

I don’t miss my depression. A friend of mine writes he misses his. That certainly would not be something I would ever say outright. Being at the depth of a canyon filled with heavy water is not a place to which I want to return. 

But I learned things about myself during that time. Things I likely would not have learned in an easier way. 

I’m not sure I had a darkest moment. I had a lot of really dark moments, though. During each of them–without fail, without exception–I turned to God. I might have been crying on the floor of my shower, but I turned to God and prayed. 

It’s a common wonder among people who grew up LDS whether they would be or become members of The Church had they not been born to believing parents. I’ve often concluded I would not. 

After this experience, I believe I would have searched. I would have spent so much time questioning, learning, searching for something additional beyond the miracles science gives us. There are things our current science cannot explain. (That’s ok, the purpose of science is to eventually be able to explain all things.)

In my darkest moment I needed something more. I needed understanding. I needed something sure in my life. If I had not been born to the parents I have, if I had not been taught the sure Truths of Eternity, this would have been the time I searched until I found them. 

No single friend, no counselor, no mentor, no parent could have brought the surety in my wave-ridden, windy, dark, and wet moments of depression that the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ brought me. 

Nothing else can bring that level of peace and acceptance. No amount of social interaction, medication (self- or otherwise), or anything else could have brought me to the stable place from which i had to start rebuilding my life. 

I don’t miss my depression. But it revealed things to me. It revealed the depth of my faith. My beliefs, my knowledge, my trust in God are rooted deeply in the core of who I am, and I am willing to endure smelting and fulling to become someone better (Mal 3:2-3). God sees my blueprint, even if I do not, and He is willing to guide me through Hell to achieve His vision of my future. 

Learning to enjoy the journey

Which is more important: the journey or the outcome?

Although the blog is subtitled, “Learning to enjoy the journey,” I have always argued the outcome is the most important. The end of the journey is the focus. Anything along the way is simply there. It is fluff and helps endure the difficulties of the journey. 

I should have known better. I’d experienced the lesson several years ago. 

It’s amazing how small bits of inspiration years ago affect me today. When I was pondering titles for posts, I looked at the blog subtitle and realized I wasn’t trying to enjoy my journey, so I titled the post, saved it, knew I didn’t have anything to write yet, and set it aside. 

Today the inspiration struck. So here goes. 

The journey is at least as important as end. I think there are some strong arguments that it is more important. 

Life is more comparable to training rides than to a bike race. Training rides have purpose only to prepare you for the race. The race is obviously about the end. A race is to win and to finish first. 

But life is a preparation. Thus it’s similar to a training ride. 

And the end of a training ride brings only more preparation. Regardless of how far you ride, when you finish, there is work to do. When you get home, the recovery process starts. It’s time to stretch, eat, and get calories. 

The end of the journey is simply more work. 

It’s not really en end. So I began to love the rides. I began to look around. I began to enjoy the struggle of the hills, the wind of the descents, and the beauty of the scenery. 

Four summers ago, I learned to enjoy the journey and not get stuck on the end. 

Today that lesson made far more sense. 

It’s time to enjoy the struggles. It’s time to look up, even when I’m pushing hard. It’s not about getting to the end of the day. It’s not about fighting until there is a small reprieve. It’s about enjoying every moment. It’s about finding individual points of joy and glorying in those. 

Those points make up the journey. 

I can make choices, but I can’t see all the consequences of the choices

A few weeks ago I started dating a girl. It was a really positive experience for me and we complemented each other in many ways.

As time passed, I saw more and more that I was regressing into some traits I wasn’t comfortable with and realized that continuing the relationship would not continue to be positive for me.

I was faced with a pretty ugly decision. It has been many months since I felt as needed and as valued as I did with her. And I knew I would be giving that up to return to the dating world of talking with random (sometimes really odd) people at church, online dating, and tinder.

How do you even make a decision like that?

How do you balance the fact you feel valued and needed more than you have in a long time against the strong likelihood it will become more and more unhealthy for you over time? How do you balance the need you fill for the other person and the desire you have to fill that need against the need you have to stay mentally healthy? How do you deal with the knowledge that you’re going to drastically hurt someone?

Making hard decisions sucks.

And you never know what will come from them. At what point will God stop opening doors? Will He ever? Will He be here for the person you hurt? Will He be there to comfort you in all the pain you pull onto yourself in that moment and for the days and weeks afterward?

Will He trust you to meet and become friends with or date someone else after doing what you did?

Probably.

I tried to follow inspiration. I had some ideas what were most important in my life and what Father wanted me to do. But most of it was based on what I felt I needed, on what I wanted to do.

I made a choice. I knew some consequences. I haven’t seen them all yet.

I’ve made a lot of choices recently. I quit my dream job. I don’t know what will come of that. But I relied on what I felt was right and the inspiration I received.

I can’t see what comes from my choices, but I can trust they are good and Father will make something positive out of them.

Our challenges affect us forever

I didn’t ask to have the year I did. In fact, I fervently prayed for a completely different set of experiences. I worked really hard for things that I felt inspired to pursue, things I knew would be blessings in my life. I strove to land a full-time teaching job. I worked to be appointed as a head coach. And I fought tooth and nail to keep my relationship together and make progress toward making eternal covenants with her and God.

Now, none of those things exist in my life. I have no contact with the girl, I don’t teach for pay, and I no longer am the head coach. All those things I worked for, all those things that mattered most have been taken away. To top it all off, I experienced depths of depression I never thought possible, I mourned more deeply than I expected I could, and I quit the things I thought would bring me the most long-term joy.

But my heart is opened. I feel more deeply now than I ever have before. I’ve learned to draw on the pain I experienced and the worries I have about my future to empathize with friends who experience trials and challenges in their lives.

I wrote last week about seeing the people behind their trials. The things I experienced make me better. The long-term perspective shows that I am more like Father than I was last year.

But I am not the things I experienced. I am not a failed teacher. I am not a depressive. I am not a bad coach. I am not a failure as a boyfriend.

Viewing myself as these things limits my growth and improvement. Taking these experiences and recognizing lessons I can learn from them, has shown me to see my friends behind their trials.

The largest take-away is I must actively be pursuing the things that matter most. I value helping others. I value serving. I value following Father with trust and faith.

What I experienced this last year teaches me to be spiritually strong. It teaches me to follow God and be more like Him. I will be forever affected by my experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The person behind the most obvious characteristic

I’ve been pondering how I can better love those around me. I have friends with all sorts of mental, physical, emotional, and religious challenges. From depression to anxiety to eating disorders, fibromyalgia, homosexuality, autism, substance addiction, to pornography addiction.

These things–especially depending on how often my friends mention or focus on it–often become the basis for how I perceive them.

“Jeff is a really good guy, even though he’s addicted to pornography.”

“Amy is super-productive for someone with depression.”

“Emily is really cool for a lesbian.”

“Alfred is the best divorced guy I know.”

And perceiving them this way is wrong.

Heavenly Father loves each of us because of who we are, not what challenges us. When we consider the eternal perspective, we must realize that what people many struggle with the most are not eternal aspects of their character.

The fact I spent the last six months incredibly depressed are not an eternal aspect of who I am. However, it taught me critical lessons about myself and empathizing with others and impacts my return to Father’s waiting arms.

My friends may experience pain and trials. They may be depressed, divorced, missing limbs, chemically imbalanced, same-sex attracted, or all of those.

They are children of a Loving God. They may or may not accept that fact. But I can. I can love them for who they are. I can love them for their eternal characteristics–characteristics that may be strengthened by their challenges.

So the way I perceive them, the way I love them must be informed that these trials are temporary. After mortality ends, none of these things will be challenges they face. Anxiety, depression, amputation, same-sex attraction, divorce, eating disorders, addiction, and so many other things won’t affect us any more.

Those then won’t be the things that define my perceptions of my friends. Nor should they be now. If I can change my above perceptions to:

“Jeff is a really good guy.”

“Amy is quite productive.”

“Emily is really cool.”

“Alfred is one of the best guys I know.”

Then I show the love Father does and I focus on their whole worth as God intended.

The people I meet are not defined only by their most obvious characteristic(s). Those characteristics and experiences might end up making them better people, but they are temporary. They will not last beyond mortality. And if I do not recognize that, I do myself and them a disservice.

On life, unmet expectations, and the impact of depression

It’s amazing to look at where my life has been and what has changed in the last year.

A year ago, I was studying to be a teacher, dating a great girl, planning on getting married sometime in the summer, running a profitable volleyball club, and expecting great things following those lines.

In March I was hired to be a full-time teacher and head volleyball coach in Salt Lake City. It was exactly what I wanted: education courses are a joke and nothing but common sense and I now had a way to support the family that was starting in the summer.

Then things started changing. Drastically. In May, we broke up and I spent the summer making friends near where I was living. In July, I moved closer to work and left all the social support I developed to that point.

Preparations for school started in August, and I began to mourn the things I didn’t have. I was starting this job that I wanted, but I didn’t have the person I wanted alongside me for this new experience. I didn’t have anyone.

As high school volleyball started, I was overcome with the amount of bureaucracy required by high school beyond what club requires. I was spending more time trying to manage stuff I considered ridiculously superfluous to the sport than I was spending coaching.

And to top it all off I was unable to spend as much time preparing the team as I believed I should.

Life became very, very lonely. I would spend each weekend nearly catatonic, trying to recover from the emotional stress of the week. Nearly every day I threw up my hands, looking heavenward, wondering “why me? Why did this set of things happen to me?”

“Why do I hate going to practice everyday? I love this sport, and I love coaching my players. Why can I not better prepare for my classes? Why do my assistant coach and I always misunderstand one another?”

It was the most unhappy time I’ve ever experienced.

My mind often thought everything would be better if I were only married. If only that one thing had been different, my life would be better.

Going back to school each week was a trial. I loved my students and my players, and I knew I brought things to my interactions with them that no one else could. And that kept me going. I kept getting out of bed each morning for them.

More than one commute each week was spent in tears wondering what was going on and why I was so deeply unhappy.

Every week, the cycle continued: go to school Monday morning, believing there was nothing that could get me through the week; teach a few periods, realize I could make it; go to practice, hate it; on Wednesdays, things would seem doable in the mornings; spend Saturday vegetating; spend Sundays catatonic, not wanting to face the upcoming week; wake up Monday and repeat.

There was no end in sight. There was nothing I could do except continue to endure and hope my life got better.

Two people made a major difference in my life, and I am incredibly indebted to them for their love and suggestions. One was in my new ward and one had been around through everything is experienced that year.

At various times and independently, each heard me, listened to my struggles–as I was willing to be opened and asked for them to be there, noticed when I was struggling, and showed the most incredible support I could have asked for. Additionally, both suggested I seek professional help and go see a counselor.

That was completely out of the question. There was no way I needed to talk to a counselor. Those were for people with real problems–clinical depression, schizophrenia, marital conflict. I didn’t need that.

As I spiraled downward, I gradually became more open to the idea. Spending most weekends in tears wasn’t normal. Was I even myself any more? Was I really convincing myself that what I was experiencing was ok?

At the beginning of October, I broke down. Just after sacrament meeting, my friend in my ward asked me if I was doing ok. To that point, I had been mostly honest when people asked me that question. I frequently answered, “no.” But I couldn’t even choke that out. I just was in shambles, and she just waited, listened, translated through my sobs and tears, and suggested (again) I go see a counselor.

After doing essentially the same thing to my bishop, he suggested the same. (I had visited him and laid out my woes to him frequently in the two months prior, so I think he realized I needed more help than he could provide.)

Seeing a counselor gave me a bit more perspective than I was exercising. While talking with her (and somehow making time for it), I recognized some of the lies I’d been telling myself, primarily: Life wouldn’t be better if things had gone differently. I’d followed The Spirit when accepting a job, when breaking up, when prepping for classes and practices.

Spending my life choosing (and that’s what I had mostly been doing) to focus on what I thought should have been was dragging me down.

Life started getting better. I regained some amount of control over what was going on. Volleyball was still pretty hellacious, and I realized I far preferred teaching.

I resigned the coaching job pretty soon after the season. There are a few reasons beyond just doing too much and not getting along with my assistant as to why I did, but they are less relevant here.

So things looked up.

For a while.

I was teaching, enjoying it, enjoying my students, and enjoying not having additional responsibilities at the school.

But around Thanksgiving, I started realizing I wasn’t exercising my mind enough at school. I needed more. I needed freedom from the shackles of district policy (which for student privacy, I understand) if I was going to continue trying to teach technology and computer science to students.

So the first Thursday of December I rewrote the curriculum for mobile development for the state of Utah, and the next day I wrote a letter resigning my teaching position as of 16 January 2015.

It was a big change. It was a scary change. I didn’t have a job offer, but I had resigned.

It was a massive leap of faith. I have no idea what the future holds. I interviewed pretty heavily during the following weeks (eight times in six calendar days) and was told “no” by all the companies I interviewed with.

I spent the Christmas break taking stock of what I really wanted.

I want flexibility. I want control. I want to enjoy my coworkers. A stable paycheck is less desirable than these things.

A few things I’ve realized:

  • If I were married, quitting my job wouldn’t have been an option. I would have to languish doing something that stifles me at least until the school year ended.
  • Perspective matters.
  • Depression can still hit. My family was here for most of the Christmas break, but because of some thought processes I had, I couldn’t stand being with them for more than a bit at a time. I had to spend most of that time alone just to keep my sanity.
  • I don’t know what the future holds. But Father does.
  • Even in the depths of depression, I can choose to have hope. It’s not easy, and for some people it may not be possible. But I can choose hope, and that makes things bearable when they seem beyond all possibility of enduring.
  • I have a Savior who walks my path with me. He may not be the only one I want to walk that with me, but He is The One who walks with me now.
  • Father sees the end from the beginning. I may not, but I will eventually.

And that gives me hope.

Christmas

Christmas is about potential.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who grew up to be the Saviour of all men.  We collect as families and close friends to celebrate what will be.  Maybe I’m not making sense.

Before the world was formed, God had a plan.  His spirit children (us) needed a world to come to and experience life in a body and learn how to master bodies.  He knew we would make many mistakes and needed a way fo us to be able to return to Him.  (He is perfect and imperfect people can’t come back to stay.)

Jesus Christ volunteered to come to earth as a mortal, like us, and suffer more than any man had ever suffered.  He would experience the entirety of human experience and atone for all pain, lost, sickness, and sin–all imperfections–so we could return to God and live with Him forever.

We had known Jesus for a long time, and knew He was the only spirit sibling we had who could possibly make good on such a promise.  We supported this and looked forward with faith to His life.

On Christmas day (or what we celebrate as Christmas day), Jesus was born to a virgin mother.  Heaven had such trust in Jesus that angels proclaimed his birth across the world.  A new star appeared, telling everyone the Saviour was born.

It is the beginning of His perfect life we celebrate today.  We celebrate the potential of a tiny baby child; born in the muddy, flea-ridden stable; lain in an animal’s feed trough for a bassinet to become the perfect example to all mankind of how to live and how to return to God’s presence.

Christmas reminds us of our potential.  Each of us can choose to be like Jesus.  We can live following His example, repenting of our mistakes because He atoned for our sins.  His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary’s Cross allows us to repent and have our sins, though as scarlet blemishes on our souls become white as driven snow (see Isaiah 1:18).

Jesus allows us to fulfill God’s plan, to fulfill our potential as children of the Most High.  We can achieve limitless heights because He performed His mission on earth.  We each must do the same.  We must follow all His commandments and help other do the same.  We must find and fulfill our purpose of life.

Then we, too, through Jesus’ atonement that rights every wrong, will realize our potential as we stand before God and are ushered into His loving arms once again.