Shattered Silence

Shattered Silence

Friday, October 7, 2016

To Learn the Healer's Art

Ten years ago I forsook homosexual activity,
and returned to my Mormon faith.
September this year was a special anniversary for me. It marked ten years since I broke up with the one and only boyfriend I ever had, and came back to my ChurchThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormonsand began rebuilding a broken faith (See my posts, “The Greener Side” and “The Best and Worst of Times”)  Ten years of growing, stretching, struggling, discomfort, rising, falling, learning, and failing. In some ways it seems like it has been the longest decade of the three I’ve been alive thus far; in other ways, by the grace of God, it seems to have flown by happily and blessedly.

Sometimes I can hardly remember myself as a struggling twenty year-old young man, attempting to reconcile my feelings of attraction for the same sex, and the religion I had joined only four years earlier. Other times I ponder those dark days of resuming my religious activity, nurturing my weak spirit which felt barely existent inside me, and I wonder how I made it through alive. 

It certainly wasn’t easy; it was the hardest decision I have ever made in my entire life, yet I still feel so young and naïve in this world. Truthfully, I feel that no one should ever have to make such a monumental choice—faith or feelings; family or fear; heaven or hell; happiness or misery. To me at that time—to so many young, LGBTQ Mormons still— it is black and white; no in between that is still righteous, no middle ground that isn’t sinful. I never encourage anyone in the same position to take the same path I took; but I cannot say now that I am unhappy in my choice.

I have wondered, if my choices had been
different, if I could've made a relationship
with a guy work.
Sometimes I think about how things might have been different if I had happened to find someone I really wanted to be with that first time dating men, rather than taking the first person with whom I found mutual attraction and trying to force love. The world that I can build in my head of my “other life” is interesting, even if not very detailed. Mostly I wonder if I would’ve had the guts to defy Church and family, and bring home a boyfriend for holidays and special occasions. I wonder if the one and only girl I ever loved would be my wife now, if I hadn’t broken up with her to venture into the gay dating world. I wonder if there would be someone, anyone, lying next to me at night, or if my bed would still be just as small and empty as it is today.

I ponder what I might be doing now if I had a hardened, indifferent conscious that kept me from feeling God’s gentle pull on my heartstrings as easily and powerfully as I do—and which I always have, even before I knew there was a God. I do not suggest that to leave the faith means one can only be heartless and unfeeling; to the contrary, it is because I feel so deeply and intensely that I, personally, could not pass on the eternal blessings that my Father in Heaven offers me if I govern myself according to the bounds which He has set.

It's easy for me to feel left out of the
blessings I want most, or outside the
scope of the atonement.
I wish that I could say now that the past decade has been free of all sin related to my homosexuality; but I can’t. I have done my best to keep the covenants I made not just at my baptism, but when I entered God’s holy house and covenanted further and deepened my commitment to Him and the Savior, Jesus Christ. But some of the bounds were loosened, so to speak, even if not entirely broken. Like all of us, I am not without my mistakes, even though I would love to lie and tell you that the past ten years have been as clean and pure as the day I was born, or the day I felt reborn as I was raised up from the waters of baptism.

Pornography has always been a vice, since a young age, and I bet it always will be. I struggle to keep that toxic influence out of my thoughts and life. I know that it affects me greatly and I hurt from the feeling of helplessness it plants in me. I hear often that the atonement of Jesus Christ has the power to save us and change us from anything to which we fall prey; I usually, ashamedly, scoff out loud at the idea. Because in my mind I see a paper attached to a clipboard, reading, “Wade’s List of Atonement-Cured Struggles,” and far at the bottom of the already short list is the asterisked disclaimer, “Pornography not included in this offer.”

Still, the list of greater sins is very short; I am thankful for that. But more often than not, if I am not striving to be a positive optimist, I am playing the part of a pessimistic perfectionist. The space of a decade doesn’t shrink those regretted encounters, it only magnifies them. Huge is the calendar in my head documenting every single day of the last ten years, and all I see are a handful of huge, black blemishes splattered in random places on the pristine, white sheet. 

I think I know that I can't be perfect all the 
time,but I certainly strive tirelessly to be so 
Ironically enough, I just happened to trip and fall flat on my face just days before the month of September began and my milestone was reached. I’ve thought of the irony of it since then, and I wondered if there was something God was trying to teach me. In my mind, His feelings on the matter usually hover between, “Ten years; you’ve come a long way,” and, “Ten years; you were so close.” Likely, those are the black-and-white thoughts coming from my own head, and not from His Spirit. God, I’m sure, is much better than I when it comes to being emotionally and psychologically reasonable.

Unfortuantely, it’s just a part of my nature to see small mistakes as major failures; heaven forbid I ever get an A- in a class, because to me it might as well be an F. “Oh, I got 90/100 on my test; I can’t believe I missed ten questions. I am such a moron!” There is no middle ground in my view of success and failure—either I excelled above and beyond what was expected of me, or I crashed and burned with not even my pride left intact. It doesn’t matter what the real measure of my success was; if it’s not perfection, it’s all for naught. I’ve been this way all my life. I’ve struggled to change for years.

I tried to carry the weight of guilt for too long; significant changes in my mood since then have brought me to my knees, both figuratively and literally. For some time I was angry with God; I wanted to punish Him by refusing to offer myself as a servant. I skipped Church, I ignored promptings to pray. Other times I was so overcome with grief and tears that I couldn’t kneel quickly enough and get the words out without stumbling over them. I delved into the scriptures and words of the prophets seeking comfort. My frail faith would buoy me up for a while, but I would soon start to sink again. The month of September came and went with me just keeping my head above water, and that included work and school as well.

I needed a remedy for my emotional and spiritual
anguish; but I was looking in the wrong places.
I often turn to music as a release and a relief. Music has immense power. I believe that God can speak through music, even the kinds of songs you wouldn’t expect He would have part in or approve of. The Lord Jesus Christ taught in the scriptures, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me … I am the same that leadeth men to all good” (Ether 4:12). So why not the song on the radio, or playing in the grocery store, or on your iPod, or on your phone? 

I can recount many times in my life when lifesaving music has come at just the right moment—and a recent experience was no different. The words of a song hit me strongly while driving one day, amidst all these anguished anniversary feelings, and the Spirit whispered to me that running away from God to find peace was never going to work. I needed to come to Christ in order to be healed by repenting and seeking forgiveness.

“When the pain cuts you deep,
When the night keeps you from sleeping,
Just look, and you will see
That I will be your remedy.

When the world seems so cruel,
And your heart makes you feel like a fool,
I promise you will see
That I will be your remedy.”

~ “Remedy,” Adele. 25. XL Recordings | Columbia Records, 2015.

The Lord had my remedy. He was my remedy. As I drove in my car, listening to this song, I pondered the meaning of it. When I got home, I was still thinking about it. How is Jesus Christ my remedy from all things with which I am laden and may struggle? I began to recall titles that I had heard which referred to the Savior as the Healer, the Great Physician, and the Balm of Gilead. I was intrigued by these for some reason, the latter particularly; so I decided to study the subject. What I discovered (and what was opened unto me by the Spirit) was beautiful, and I wanted to share it here.

Pistacia lentiscus. 
Otherwise known as the mastic tree.
The illustration to the left is of the plant Pistacia lentiscus, or the mastic tree. It grows all over the Mediterranean, from the islands of Greece, to Turkey. It is largely prominent in Palestine where many of the events recorded in the Bible took place. This large shrub bleeds an ivory-colored, resinous sap (called mastic). It has been used for over 2,000 years as chewing gum, perhaps the first in the world. In ancient times, the resinous mastic was allowed to drip naturally from the bark, or from slits cut into the branches, onto strategically-placed strips of cloth or prepared ground. After the mastic had hardened to the cloth, it was collected and washed in water to get rid of impurities like dirt and bugs, and the cloth was pulled away. The hardened mastic was then ready for a variety of uses. 

Most often, it was pulverized into a fine powder—along with other aromatic spices—and combined with animal fat (tallow) and/or plant-based oils into ointment, or "balsam," like the kind famously known as the Balm of Gilead. It could then be traded and sold throughout the region. This highly valuable and expensive medicinal salve gained its name from the mountainous region of Gilead, located in ancient times just east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, where mastic trees and a variety of other balsam-bearing trees grew in abundance. Balm made from the mastic tree in this region of Palestine is believed by many botanical scholars to have been the original, trademarked, “brand-name” ointment to be mentioned in Biblical scripture and to travel the incense trails of the ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean world and beyond.

Commiphora gileadensis.
Otherwise known as the Arabian balsam tree.
The illustration on the right is of the plant Commiphora gileadensis, or the Arabian balsam tree. This large shrub (and many trees in the same genus) also bears a valuable, aromatic sap which was collected in ancient times in similar ways to the mastic tree, and made into the more common, more affordable (but still pricey) “store-brand” version of Balm of Gilead. The Arabian balsam tree takes its scientific name from the land of Gilead because it was believed for many centuries (and still by some experts) to be the most popularly-used by balm producers and merchant traders. It is thought that over time, the cheaper version of this balm became more widely used in the ancient world because it was more affordable, and the source trees were more plentiful in the region; thus, the original Balm of Gilead made from the mastic tree lost some of its consumer appeal.

The saps from the mastic and Arabic balsam trees have been used for centuries for gastrointestinal ailments, and were commonly administered by chewing the sap like gum. The sap is very bitter at first, but as it is chewed it turns from gold to white, and has a fragrant, smoky or piney taste. In powder-form, the saps also have proven antifungal and antibacterial properties, which is not coincidental in their use as topical ointments. Balm of Gilead was used on wounds to prevent infection and foster healing, and in lotions to stem illness and disease while also making its privileged users smell great. 

A bead of soft resin flowing
from a balsam tree.
Over the ages of time, there grew a disambiguation of the term “Balm of Gilead,” which could refer to the original mastic kind trademarked by growers in Gilead, or the copycat Arabic balsam kind; there are even versions made in the America’s today from balsam trees in the genus Populus. In the ancient world, however, Balm of Gilead was known for having special properties that could supposedly cure many ailments. Often times only physicians could acquire the balm, or could actually afford it; and once they obtained it, they advertised far and wide that they were in possession of the miracle-cure ointment, and they charged their patients accordingly to use it.

Balm of Gilead remained anciently a kingly gift to anyone who received it. Father Jacob (Israel) convinced his sons to return to Egypt for food, taking with them many precious commodities, including Balm of Gilead, with which to persuade the keeper of the granaries to sell them corn (not knowing that the keeper was their brother, Joseph, whom they had sold) (Genesis 43:11). Some historical and religious records aside from the Bible record that when the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon (1 Kings 10), she not only brought with her Balm of Gilead, but also “the root of the balsam” tree to plant in his kingdom—a very prized offering, indeed.

A dish of  dried mastic drippings,
often called "tears."
Commiphora gileadensis is in the same genus as the plant from which myrrh comes, Commiphora myrrha—another tree whose resin is highly valuable, and has been for many centuries; myrrh was among the gifts that the three wise men from the east brought to the young Jesus; Incidentally, frankincense also comes from tree resin (Matthew 2:11). Pistacia lentiscus mastic is still collected today for use in aromatherapy oils, food dishes and candies, medicinal substances, and incense.

So, in the end, why do I care about these seemingly insignificant facts? I didn’t—until the Spirit of God, Who testifies of all truth (Alma 5:44-45) guided me, who “[had] not faith” to “seek … diligently … out of the best books words of wisdom, … learning even by study and also by faith” (D&C 109:7). I needed to expand my knowledge in this way so that God could expand my heart and make me receptive to the Holy Ghost.

Sins and transgressions will never make us
permanently unclean; we can always repent.
I have been in need of healing recently; I have been in search of healing. I have had wounds that have been opened through poor choices, and I have not cared for them in proper ways. They have slowly festered and poisoned my soul and weakened my heart. I delayed repentance for a time, and allowed Satan to convince me that I was beyond repair. I have also slackened in my duties to worship God on the Sabbath, and to be worthy of the Redeemer’s flesh and blood offered at the sacrament table.

But the mercy and compassion of Christ the Savior have beckoned to me through my stubborn grief. He has spoken to me when I am alone with my thoughts; He speaks through my music, and manifests Himself in my dreams; His pierced hands are stretched toward me through the reach of beloved friends and family who care. I have been reminded that I am missed when I am gone, and that I am loved by people more than I know, and by more people than I know.

"Temptation of Christ" 
by Eric Armusik
Copyright © Eric Armusik
I had the agency to choose to sin; we all do. I still have that agency, and I still choose the mists of darkness too often (1 Nephi 8:23; 12:17). Each time I stained that huge, almost-spotless calendar with mistakes that ruined my “perfect record,” I also used my agency to delay repentance and to try to make it on my own. That is perhaps a worse mistake that I make even more frequently: To believe that I am outside the scope of Christ’s atonement. I thought for a time that I did not need a Redeemer. I thought for a time that I did not need His grace. Sometimes the god of this world cries out louder for me to follow him into the darkness, even when I have been so long accustomed to living in the light.

All while the adversary tugged my wrist impatiently in the direction of Babylon, I looked longingly over my shoulder for one more glimpse of Zion. My stance was one of uncertainty, and I dug my heels into the ground. Satan’s powerful pull recently inched me over the line that I thought I would never cross again. For a while, it seemed as if I was hesitantly straddling the divide between eternal life and eternal death, and that those were my only two choices. The aura of the atonement was almost visible, like a halo of light stretching far across the universe; and I felt then—like I often do still—as if the light stopped short just before it illuminated me. This is wrong! It is not true! 

If the atonement were a force we could behold, it would have no edges or ends; it is all-encompassing in every way, shape, and form—in every direction! This is the most important thing I have needed to learn in my recent trials—and I am still struggling to learn it. Satan wants me so much to fall, because he and I both know that to let go and fall is so much easier. But I am learning all over again, after many years of peace, how to climb. Climbing is harder; it is tiring at times. But it is getting me closer to home; it is taking me back to where I came from. And there are little moments along the way where I see my progress, and feel the angels nudging me gently up the eternal ladder.

Jesus Christ offers peace, forgiveness, 
and salvation to all; He does so freely 
and without price.
That’s what happened when I heard that song in my car—the ladder appeared. That is what happened when the Holy Ghost guided me to several encyclopedia articles on trees in distant lands—I began to climb. Taking time to study a title of the Savior—one of many—not only filled my brain with fun knowledge, but filled in some of the holes in my heart that have kept me from feeling like myself lately. It all reminds me that the Balm of Gilead is still offered to me at all times, without cost; it has already been bought and paid for, at the highest price, and I am already in debt to the Purchaser. That’s when the angels appeared and pushed me on, helping me get farther away from the devil and into a brighter sphere.

Like the lifeblood of the mastic and Arabian Balsam trees, there is great value in the divine blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Though, like the branches of the trees, He was pierced to let that blood run freely, He gave it still for us as a gift of immeasurable worth. And as we take the gift that His blood affords us in mortality—the love and forgiveness of our Father and Savior—there is need still to wash ourselves clean of all our impurities by repenting in sincerity, penitence, and all humility, that our garments may be clean, and so we can partake of that gift in full measure and potency.

A grove of mastic trees on the Greek
island of Chios, where mastic is still a
popular export. 
Like the bitter taste of the balsam sap, repentance is uncomfortable. It is never easy to approach our leaders and admit to wrongdoings. It may be even harder to approach God in prayer and confess our sins and ask for help and forgiveness. As the sap of the balsam tree is chewed, it turns white. As we exercise faith in God and our good leaders, the bitterness of making repairs to our broken hearts and contrite spirits becomes a little sweeter, and the blemishes we have taken on begin to lose their color. Slowly, with continued obedience and diligent work and study, our spirits can finally become clean and white, and the bitterness of the past can become the fragrant aroma of peace in the now, hope in the future, and gratitude always for the redemption that Jesus Christ offers.

The prophet Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” (Jeremiah 8:22). Though I need to be often reminded of this, my answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’ Jesus has the miracle cure in his possession; He holds the keys to our salvation, He paid the price for the healing balm. He does not charge for it; He offers is freely, saying “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Christ’s healing does not run out, nor does it expire. It was as powerful and effective in ancient times as it is today. It is as everlasting as the cruse of oil and barrel of meal that fed Elijah, a widow, and her son in the place Zarapheth (1 Kings 17:7-16). It remains, forever, a kingly gift from the Prince of Peace.

"Bind Up the Brokenhearted"
by Sandy Freckleton Gagon

Copyright © 2016 
by Sandy Freckleton Gagon
Where sin, hurt, unkindess, judgement, or abuse have cut us deeply, the Balm of Gilead can be applied to cast out the pride, depression, guilt, and guile that would cause our wounds to fester; when by choice we allow these negative things to linger, there can be more pain than is necessary to learn the lesson that Heavenly Father wishes for us to learn. If our wounds are already infected with these destructive emotions and feelings, the blood of Christ can still cleanse the wound, and He, the Balm of Gilead can cover the open, vulnerable flesh so that it may rest, soothe, and heal. 

There will always be scars; even the smallest wounds can come back to haunt us just by the reminders that are attached to them. But by applying the healing balm of Christ, the scars can be less noticeable, and more constructive to our understanding of ourselves and God. With hope and an eye toward the future, healing through the Balm of Gilead can be permanent. That doesn’t mean that we won’t commit the same sins again—certainly not. But if we bind up each wound as best we know how—as if it were the first time—and apply the Healer’s ointment while asking and expecting to be changed, that chapter in our life can be closed, and we can be better prepared for the continuation of our eternal story, which, for this time on earth, will still have its cuts and bruises.

I have needed to internalize that the most. Being caught up in the whirlwind of a few particular “temptations and … sins which do so easily beset me,” (2 Nephi 4:17-18) I have a hard time feeling like my repentance is ever complete, and that I am just counting down the hours until I commit the same sin again. But I am learning to see each scratch and dent in my virtue, my patience, my kindness, or my righteousness not as old wounds that never heal, or which I keep opening up through bad choices—but simply as small reminders that I was healed by the Balm of Gilead offered by my Redeemer Jesus Christ, and that “He is merciful unto the children of men, and that he has all power to save every [person] that believeth on his name and bringeth forth fruit meet for repentance” (Alma 12:15).

"Balm of Gilead"
by Annie Henrie Nader

Copyright © Annie Henrie

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When I've Died and Gone to Heaven

I often have such vivid dreams that I rarely forget them.
As I slept on the evening of January 28-29, 2016, I dreamed a rather lengthy and interesting dream. When I awoke, the various scenes of the dream were still vividly present in my mind, and weighed down with much emotion and provoking thought about what I had just experienced. I had the desire to record my dream, perhaps in an attempt to discover more meaning in it, if not just to remember it for how unique it was. I will leave interpretations aside, for now, and give the details of the dream as it played out.

My dream began with me sitting in the downstairs level of the house I grew up in; it’s not unusual for me to return to my childhood home in my dreams. In fact, a large portion of my dreams actually take place in or around that house, with its yard, street, and neighborhood just the way I remember it. The room downstairs was the one that my mother used as her sewing and craft room, which had a door that led outside, up some steps, and into the back yard.

In my dream, the light of two Heavenly Beings was shining
from the outside into my darkened room. 
I don’t recall why I was there, but I was comfortable and at peace; the floor seemed to be heavy laden with blankets and pillows and other fluffy objects. It was nighttime, and I was reclining in the soft pile, reading from a book that I interpreted to be scriptures, though they were not like my own actual, familiar set of scriptures. There were bright lights shining through the basement door window from the outside, and I could see the shadows the light cast as it moved through the trees in the backyard.

I knew somehow that the light was radiating from two heavenly Beings who had descended from on high with a special task. The Beings were God, the Eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. They were here to cleanse the earth, carry away the righteous with Them into glory, and destroy the wicked who were not prepared for Their coming. This is not the first dream I have had with the theme of Christ’s Second Coming or of the end of the world; surprisingly, I have these dreams frequently, and almost always I am at my childhood home when the last days arrive and the earth all around me begins to crumble and the sky begins to fall.

I was eagerly preparing to meet the Heavenly
Beings by perusing the scriptures. 
Surprisingly, though, I was not scared this time, as I often am during my other dreams of the end of the world. I was anxiously waiting for the illuminated Beings to make Their decision of who would die and who would live through Their culminating visit to earth. I was preparing the room for Them—arranging, cleaning, and straightening things in the room that I remember always being there while my mom used the room for her work.

I expected the Godhead to enter the room at any moment, and I apparently wanted to make a good impression. More so I was preparing myself mentally and spiritually for what might happen next (hence, delving into the scriptures as I waited) as I knew in my dream-mind that the only options were to live to see heavenly glory or to perish in my wicked state at the moment my Father and Savior decided which of the two I was most worthy and deserving of.

As the light increased in the room, still shining from outside, I seemed to hear one of Their voices; it filled my whole body like great, booming thunder, but was as gentle to my soul as a feather floating on the breeze. Whether God or Christ, I do not know, but He spoke of ancient and modern prophecy predicting that the earth would be consumed at the end of days, and that that day was finally at hand. I waited there, listening carefully to the voice, in the sea of blankets and fluff to discover if I would be chosen to live or to die.

Suddenly I found myself flying upward through the clouds
and bursting into a realm of light.
Suddenly, I began to feel lighter, as if I were a balloon swelling with helium and rising against gravity. My consciousness began to slide, and my awareness shifted out of my mother’s sewing room in my childhood home, and into another approaching realm. I was somewhere in between the floor and the ceiling, but continued to rise; I quickly felt no longer present in the room, as if I must be miles into the night sky. My eyes darkened slightly, but only for a moment, when to my view I saw blue sky and white clouds, touched by golden sunshine and bright with light. I lamented briefly, realizing that I must not have survived the cleansing of earth; until I saw myself in a place of beauty that seemed so strange, yet so familiar.

As I flew up through the clouds, I turned again to face downward, where I saw numerous structures, lush gardens with waterfalls, and various people. It seemed then that I was flying downward past all these structures, waterfalls, and people, but not falling. All of these things passed my view numerous times, as if they were repeating on some visual loop. In my mind, some spirit whispered to me that the vastness and beauty I beheld was representative of eternity, both literally and figuratively. 

From the wondrous scenery I beheld around me, I knew
that I must be in heaven. 
The repetition of the scenery symbolized a life that goes on forever and ever, without beginning of days, or end of years, and the vastness and beauty represented the immense and glorious community of Heavenly Father’s children of which I was now going to be a part. This was the place where I would now spend my afterlife, yet I knew that there was even more to come in eternity of which I could not yet even dream.

As I soared to a stop on the ground, amidst a sort of town square with high, white-stone buildings, there was immediately a man next to me whom I had never seen before, but I recognized him immediately—it was the Savior Jesus Christ. I was in heaven. Whether dead or translated in the twinkling of an eye, my spirit lived on, and I was in the presence of the Man for whom I had lived and fought so hard to follow and emulate during my life.

The moment was one of disbelief, followed by a sense of joy and fulfillment that was both unexpected and familiar. I embraced Him, as if He were a familiar friend whom I just hadn’t seen in a while. I knew Him, and He knew me. We were not strangers to one another. He looked different than I had imagined, and I made the remark in my head that I never would have thought he’d look so normal, so average—a human, a Man, just like me.

"Home" by David Bowman
Copyright © David Bowman
The next few moments were quite shocking, even for a dream. Without saying a word, Jesus faced me, closed His eyes, and out-stretched His hands. He did not speak, but in my mind I heard Him say that He was sorry for all that I had to go through during my life in order to make it back to Him. He said He didn’t blame me if I was angry with Him, and that He understood if I wanted some closure in relation to all the pain that He had put me through. 

Then unexpectedly, I realized that He was right; I had experienced a lot of turmoil during my mortal life. I had experienced homosexuality all my life, yet had sacrificed much to be an active Latter-day Saint. I lived with the challenges of Tourettes, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety. I had experienced so much stigma and judgment; people were mean at times, inconsiderate, and heartless. Many times my trials weakened me and made me feel worthless, unloved, and unwanted. I had plenty of reason to be angry with a God and a Savior Who would allow me to experience so much lifelong grief. I wondered why I had to suffer all of that just to be saved. I wondered why Jesus didn’t save me from all of those things, to keep them from happening.

He was right; I was angry! I was angry with Him for my sufferings. It was all His fault. He was the reason! He was the cause! Then all at once, without hesitation or reserve, I struck my Savior. I tore down His outstretched arms; I slapped and punched His face; I delivered blows to His chest and kicked Him, and He stood completely still and suffered it. I wanted to punish Him the way He seemed to have punished me. I wanted Him to feel the pain that I had felt so many times, and this was the only way I knew how. With hot tears of rage wetting my face, I threw my arms and fists at Him almost helplessly until I had not the energy to do so anymore. 

"Safely Home" by Ron DiCianni
Copyright © Ron DiCianni
Slowly, the rage subsided into shame and sorrow. My blows weakened, and so did my body. With immense regret, and still a tinge of frustration, I collapsed into Christ’s chest with heavy sobs. My knees buckled, and I slipped to the ground as He wrapped His arms around me and descended with me into a tearful heap. He held me as I cried, and didn’t say a word. Then the voice came again to my mind, saying that I had suffered in mortality as He had once suffered in mortality. He had taken on the sins of a fallen world in order to succor the weak in their infirmities and offer grace to the souls of men and women who believed on His name and trusted in He and His Father’s ultimate love.

The turmoil, pain, suffering, loneliness, and frailty that I experienced was just a tiny, incomparable portion of what He suffered on my behalf; but through my faith in Him, it was just enough to refine and perfect me, even as He is perfect, so that I could once again be here in His mighty arms. He was beaten, He was struck, and He was pained. He was pierced through, He bled, and He died—all in far more terrible ways than I could inflict upon Him in my selfish moment of resentment. I had survived mortality, and then died and gone to heaven because of my faith in Him. He was the reason! He was the cause! He was everything that I needed and wanted to help me through, and everything I needed and wanted to become. He didn’t save me from my trials, but He saved me in my trials, to keep me from becoming lost on my way back to Him.

During my assault on the Savior, I felt in my mind that this was what all of God’s children experienced when they died and met their Lord for the first time. Each man and woman who ever travailed through life had the chance to confront their Savior and question all that they had ever done to follow Him. The reality of standing in heaven at that moment was not enough, apparently, for me to know that I had succeeded in the test of mortality. I had to confront the reasons for my test of life, and the Man Who made it possible for me to conquer it, and consider whether or not it was all worth it. It was a beautiful message to me, even in a dream state, as it is now. I had to acknowledge that no matter how I felt about Jesus Christ, every knee would eventually bow, and every tongue confess that He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world (see Philippians 2:10-11).

I do not have to wait until I see my Redeemer face to face, and look into His eyes, to know of His divine nature and living reality. And I do not have to wait for that moment to take His hands into mine and feel the scars of the crucifiers nails to know that His life, His death, and His resurrection were all for me. To be sitting there, tangled in the loving arms my Lord and Savior in my unconscious mind, fully and unspeakably grateful for His sacrifice, was something so glorious and almost-tangible that I hope to live my life in every possible way to make that interaction a living reality someday.

"Every Knee Shall Bow" by J. Kirk Richards
Copyright © 2012 by J. Kirk Richards

Here the dynamic of my dream shifted as I realized that if I was in heaven, I had left my family and friends behind. Gone was the previous notion that the earth was destroyed in Christ’s Second Coming. My dreams (probably many individuals’ dreams) do this often—changing directions while holding onto elements from previous scenes on the stage of my subconscious. However, during the next scene I was given the charge and the honor of being a guardian angel for my family, and to watch over and comfort them as they grieved my departure.

Though perhaps a bit macabre or depressing, I’ve often visited my own funeral in my mind and wondered about it—who would attend, what would be said about me, what it would be like. And in my dream, I didn’t want to leave my family behind without them knowing that I was okay. I knew that time in heaven was different, and I was afraid that I would have missed attending my funeral. Like looking at the clock and realizing you’re late for an appointment, I suddenly discovered that because I had died recently, I could still make it to my funeral, where all my family was gathered to pay their last respects to me. 

After I had died and gone to heaven in my dream, I then had
the opportunity to attend my own funeral.
And in an instant (because spirits can travel quickly) I was walking toward a crowd of my family members who were standing about talking just after my funeral had finished. In my dream, no one could see me, but I was interacting with them and they could feel me there and gauge my actions and responses, as if the veil between us were very thin. Everyone looked somber and drained, and many eyes were wet and red from grieving tears.

I was surprised that the first person I rushed to embrace in spirit was my dad. He was one of the first people I saw at my funeral, and I longed to tell him that I was okay. Because my immediate family members are not actively religious, I worried that some of them, like my dad, might be confused and unsettled about where I had gone, and if my death was final. As I wrapped my arms around my dad, he held me tightly and said, “I can feel Wade like he’s right here with me.” It’s strange (as dreams are), but I talked to him face to face, as if he could see me, but according to the unspoken laws of this dream, I knew I was just a spirit, and he could not see or hear me. But he discerned my presence through some special, sweet force that I had been given as their guardian angel.

In my spirit form, I hugged my dad, and reassured him that
I was okay—that I had made it to heaven.
Worried that my dad might not find closure in my death unless he could know that I was okay, the first thing I said to him with my spiritual voice was, “Dad, I made it. I made it.” He smiled, and commented to the others around him that he knew I was in a good place—that I was in heaven—just like I had always wanted. I was so happy that I was able to convey this peaceful message to him.

Subsequently I hugged my favorite aunt, who was also in attendance, as well as my brothers, my sister-in-law, and my oldest nephew; to each of them I reassured them, “I made it. I made it back.” I knew that if I had done anything right in the way I lived my mortal life, then they would know that my greatest desire and goal in my existence, death, and the afterlife, was to go to heaven when I died. And not just to glory and peace, but the highest glory attainable—even the Celestial Kingdom, to live in the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ forever. I wanted them to know that I had achieved my goal, and my purpose.

Even in my sleep, I feel emotions so strongly when I dream. I have woken up from intensely emotional dreams with tears in my eyes, or shouting out to people in anger, frustration, or with passion and love. The feelings of this part of the dream were so bittersweet. After seeing all of my family, I was terribly distraught that I couldn’t find my mother in the crowd of attendees at my funeral. My relationship with my mother is one of immense closeness, love, and respect; so naturally, even in a dream (and even in death), she was the person I wanted to see and comfort the most.

The most bittersweet moment of attending my own funeral,
was attempting to comfort my grieving mother.
Finally, I saw her. She came staggering into the area, aided by a couple of unknown people who were holding her hands as if to help her to stand. I ran to her, and stood a few arm lengths away. She was looking at the ground as she walked, as if to be careful of her steps; then she looked up, as if she knew I was there, but she peered into the crowd of others gathered around. She smiled at everyone and whispered greetings, thanking everyone for coming; but her weak body language was that of anguish, and her demeanor spoke of deep stress and pain. 

My emotions were caught up in a rush of empathy and love, and I fell into her bosom and sobbed. Like my dad, she made a similar comment about feeling me nearby, as if I were right there; though, again, I knew I was only there in spirit, she still reciprocated my embrace as if I were there in the flesh. I pulled away to look her into her eyes and I yelled that I was there, that I was with her, and that I always would be. 

Despite being reunited with my Lord and Redeemer only moments earlier—the Man I had lived my whole life for—the next person with whom I felt the most connection and intense love was the woman standing right in front of me, grieving the death of her youngest son while trying to stay strong. It was heart-wrenching. It cut me to my core, even as I slept alive and well in my room, dreaming up the scene in my subconscious mind. It was she who had been the largest contributor to my very existence since I had been born to Heavenly Parents prior to my conception on earth.

I promised my family that no matter what, we would all be
together in heaven someday.
I didn’t know how long I had been dead; according to the conversations I heard going on around me at the funeral, it was just before Christmas that I had passed away. But I thought of the anguish my mother would still have to experience as she cleaned out my apartment and sorted through my belongings. I couldn’t bear to cause her any more pain than she had already experienced in saying goodbye to me physically, but to then have to part with all the reminders of me as well was enough to tear me apart.

As I comforted my mother in spirit, I made her a solemn promise that I would prepare the way to receive her when the time came for her to pass on. I promised her that I would do everything in my power as an angel to put in a good word, save her a seat, and get her ready to spend eternity with me. In fact, I told my whole family this—my dad, my brothers, my nephew—all of my non-religious family members who many people of faith might suppose would not have a place in heaven because of their unbelief. I dreaded so much the thought of being without them in the eternities that I knew I would give anything to ensure that we could stay together. 

I kissed my mother many times before I parted; apparently, my responsibilities as an angel required me to be elsewhere, and I knew that my time with them in that moment was running short. But I promised them all that I would never be far away, and that in an instant my spirit could be with them whenever they needed me, and that I would know of their prayers and be there to answer them, God willing.

I'm not sure I believe that every dream has to have a
meaning; but I believe they can still have powerful messages.
Now, there are many people who put a lot of stock into dreams and their interpretations. I often wonder about the meaning of the common threads that run through many of my dreams—such as that I dream frequently about the Second Coming of Christ, the end of days, and about my childhood home—but I’m not sure I necessarily believe that all dreams have to be premonitory or symbolically meaningful to my current life, or a reflection of my thoughts, actions, or behavior patterns.

Nevertheless, this dream struck me hard. I woke up with an array of emotions that I can feel strongly now even as I type. I am reminded of the life that I live in faith—being gay and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)—and of why I choose to align my choices and actions with God’s laws rather than man’s, by refraining from giving into very natural yet carnal wants and desires. If you’ve read my blog in the past, particularly posts like “The Greener Side,” you know that my example to my family and my desire to serve them in righteousness as a man of faith was a major factor in my decision to return from a life of sexual sin and inactivity in my religion, to living in worthiness before God and Jesus Christ.

My dream of dying and going to heaven was a beautiful
reminder of Jesus Christ's gifts of salvation and immortality.
My dreams are often vivid, colorful, and full of life, and this dream was no exception. To imagine how my new life might be when I finally cross through the veil into the spirit world is something that keeps me in check, not because I fear God or His punishment, but because I trust in His blessings and power. I do not doubt that when I stand before the throne of God to be judged, with Jesus Christ acting as my Mediator and Advocate with the Father, that I will be fully aware of all my deeds and thoughts in life—those that were acceptable before the Lord, and those that were not. 

But I trust that through the application of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, my mortal inadequacies will level out with what I have offered to the Godhead through personal sacrifice, and I will not be surprised by where I then stand in the kingdom of God. The sacrifice of the Savior of the world will make up so much of the difference then as it does now in daily life; at the final judgment, I like to think that it will make up all the difference, and maybe then some.

Over the last few years, I feel that the godly characteristics I have come to know and trust in the most are mercy and compassion. I have learned how to better navigate through occasional transgressions and shortcomings in constructive and meaningful ways that help me to build upon a foundation of repentance and grace, rather than tearing myself down with destructive feelings of guilt and shame. I feel that I am far, far harder on myself than my Heavenly Father ever is on me, and that He is quick to forgive and help me move on in my discipleship, even when I can’t help but obsessively focus on all the factors that caused me to falter. He doesn’t want me to dwell long on failure, but to hold my light and little higher and take the next step on the darkened path ahead. 

I have come to cherish and embrace the overflowing mercy
and compassion offered to me by my Father and Savior.

I believe that God’s mercy is overflowing in its availability, if we can but take the cup to our lips and drink of it generously and let it fill us and make us whole. And as our “cup runneth over,” we can conclude as King David did, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalms 23:5-6). Also, I know that the united compassion of God and the Redeemer is such that Their divine and immaculate hearts swell within their breasts out of love, care, support, and favor for the children of the Eternal Father who suffer, travail, and triumph on earth.

Like Job of old, I can testify of the reality of an afterlife with God, made possible through the merits of a Savior, Jesus Christ, who saved me in the kingdom of God by giving all that He had and all that He is in diligence to His Father’s will:

          “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:         
          “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:         
          “Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my [heart] be consumed within me” (Job 19:25-27).

Importantly, I know also that I will not be without my family in heaven. Though I have never been sealed to my family in the temple, and will likely never have that opportunity while my family members are yet alive, I know that through Heavenly Father’s mercy, compassion, and the ordinances of the Holy Priesthood, I will not be denied the blessing of an eternal, forever family. And though I dread the day when I will have to say temporary goodbyes to those I love so much, I glory in the knowledge that my parting is just that—temporary!

Eternal life and salvation through Jesus Christ the Lord are not dreams or fantasies like the one I recently had during the night. They are a glorious reality that I will one day be part of; and the emotion, the peace, and the power of it all will be far more vivid, colorful, and spectacular than my unconscious brain could ever concoct. The time away from my family members who will eventually move on to that next step of their eternal journey will be so difficult for me, I’m certain. But I know that I will be reunited with them again someday when they come to meet me at the veil after I’ve died and gone to heaven.

"Dream as if you'll live forever; live as if you'll die today."
~ James Dean, American Actor (1931 - 1955)