|Ten years ago I made the choice to cease dating men and return to|
the Church I had separated myself from.
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—and to so many young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) Mormons still today—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 wonder sometimes if I would've found a man to love and be with|
if I had not chosen a life of faith and abstinence.
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.
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.
|Sometimes I feel like my lifelong moral struggles are excluded|
from the changing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
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 helpless lust 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-Curable 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.
Ironically enough, I 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, all-or-nothing 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.
|In my quest for absolute perfection, I am often left feeling guilty|
and ashamed when I fall short of my goals and covenants.
I tried to carry the weight of guilt for too long, after my most recent mistake; 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 and 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 mental pain and suffering, and a song|
reminded me where I could find that miracle cure.
I can recount many times in my life when life-saving 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,
When the night keeps you from sleeping,
Just look, and you will see
That I will be your remedy.
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
I promise you will see
That I will be your remedy.”
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.
|A botanist's illustration of Pistacia lentiscus,|
or the mastic tree.
In ancient times, the resinous mastic was allowed to drip naturally from the bark, or from slits purposefully cut into the branches, onto strategically-placed strips of linen cloth or small earthen bowls. After the mastic had hardened to the cloth or bowl, it was collected and washed in water to get rid of impurities like dust and bugs, and extracted from the bowl or gently pulled away from the linen. The hardened mastic was then ready for a variety of uses.
Often, it was pulverized into a fine powder—along with other aromatic spices and substances—and combined with animal fat (tallow) and/or plant-based oils (like olive) to make a variety of different unguents; it could then be traded and sold throughout the region. An unguent is a soft, viscous material commonly used topically in ancient times for its delightful scent and healing properties. Different translations of the Bible, along with other religious records, refer to the more popular unguent(s) as “balsam,” like the kind famously known as the Balm of Gilead. “Balsam” can also refer to the types of trees and shrubs that bear these versatile resins.
|A botanist's illustration of the Arabian balsam|
tree, or Commiphora gileadensis.
The illustration on the right is of the plant Commiphora gileadensis, or the Arabian balsam tree. This plant 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 balsam producers and merchant traders in that area. This large shrub (and many trees in the same genus) also bears a valuable, aromatic resin which was collected in ancient times by methods similar to those used with the mastic tree. However, some experts purport that it was in fact the Arabian balsam tree which was the actual progenitor of the original Balm of Gilead, as evidenced by the association of the name “Gilead” and its retention with local inhabitants over many centuries (to later be used in the scientific identification in more modern days).
Some ancient researchers have suggested that Commiphora gileadensis (Arabian balsam) resin was actually used to make a more common, more affordable (but still very prized) “knock-off-brand” version of Balm of Gilead. It is thought that, over time, the cheaper version of this balm became more widely used in the ancient world because it was easier to obtain, and the source trees were more plentiful in the region; thus, the original Balm of Gilead, supposedly made from Pistacia lentiscus (mastic), lost some of its consumer appeal. Over the ages of time, there grew a disambiguation of the name “Balm of Gilead,” which could refer to the original mastic kind likely trademarked by growers in Gilead, or the copycat Arabian balsam kind, which eventually overshadowed the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus, as the believed source of the miracle-cure ointment.
Similarly, in our day, disambiguation of product names and brand names still occurs. Think of a disposable tissue being called a Kleenex, after the leading U.S. brand established in 1924 as a replacement for cotton. Another example is Clorox bleach, a chemical whose uses were virtually unknown to consumers until the Clorox name was patented in 1913, tying the brand name to the chemical substance as its use in homes became more common. It is proposed by some that a similar thing happened with Balm of Gilead; it was extremely popular with consumers and a lucrative business for anyone who could produce anything similar to it. However, Balsam resin (of any kind, really), remained the key ingredient for the famous unguent along with the right combination of other aromatic ingredients.
|Sticky resins from mastic and balsam trees were allowed to dry|
and then used to make unguents, like the famous Balm of Gilead.
The resins from balsam trees like the mastic and Arabian varieties have been used for centuries for gastrointestinal ailments, and were commonly administered by chewing the sap like gum. In fact, mastic and balsam resins were probably the first chewing gums in the world. 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. Balsam unguents could be applied to burns, rashes, boils, cuts, and scrapes to ease pain and prevent infection.
|Groves of mastic and balsam trees, like this one in present-day|
Chios, Greece, were highly valued treasures for the resins they
Balm of Gilead remained anciently a kingly gift to anyone who received it. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Father Jacob (Israel) convinced his sons to return to Egypt to retrieve food during a sore famine; he advised them to take with them many precious commodities, including “a little balm,” 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).
It is interesting to note here, however, that in Jacob’s day, it seems unlikely that this luxurious balm went by the name of ‘Gilead,” even while it was still enormously popular in trade. Historical speculation suggests that it wouldn’t be until many hundreds of years later that Palestine’s landscape would be dotted by balsam trees of any kind—long before the industrious residents of Gilead would begin to produce the famous salve that would eventually bear that region’s name.
|Ancient aromatic unguents were stored in elaborate|
vessels of ivory and alabaster, like this one found in
the tomb of Egyptian boy-Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
Other historical and religious records—including the writings of first-century Jewish scholar and historian Flavius Josephus, and the sacred texts of the Jewish Talmud—indicate that the Queen of Sheba not only brought along with her balsam unguents (among numerous other extravagant and expensive treasures) but also gifted King Solomon with “the root of the balsam” tree to plant in his kingdom—a very prized offering, indeed.
Historically, at that time, the balsam tree only grew in the kingdom of Saba, which lay in the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, in present-day Yemen; the kingdom of Saba has been identified with the biblical land of Sheba. And so, these more detailed texts credit the Queen of Sheba as the benefactress of balsam trees in Palestine.
Another interesting tales involving the famous sap-bearing balsam tree is related to two of history’s most famous lovers: Cleopatra and Marc Antony. Cleopatra was the active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt just decades before the emergence of the Roman Empire, and the subsequent transition of Egypt into a province of that growing power. Marc Antony was a Roman military general and an agent to Julius Caesar; both men played critical roles in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra had a son by Julius Caesar as an act of consummation related to their political liaison, which helped keep the Queen in power.
|Frankincense and myrrh also come from sap-bearing plants;|
they were among the priceless treasures given to the boy Jesus.
Unfortunately, that land belonged by sovereignty to King Herod the Great of Israel, and Marc Antony claimed he could not give it to her, but proposed that he could arrange for them to share the wealth from that region. In quick time Cleopatra became a co-owner and financial confederate with Herod. No doubt she obtained not only wealth from this partnership, but also an endless supply of her own product—bottomless vials and dishes filled with balsam oils and unguents to keep the Queen smelling like all royal women of her time should.
Commiphora gileadensis (Arabian balsam) happens to be 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—another gift bestowed upon the boy who would become the Messiah (Matthew 2:11). Pistacia lentiscus mastic is still collected today for use in aromatherapy oils, food dishes and candies, medicinal substances, and incense.
|Satan strives to convince me that I am beyond repair.|
"Temptation of Christ" by Eric Armusik
Copyright © Eric Armusik
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 for and support me. 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.
|One cannot place a value on the atonement of Jesus Christ; He|
offers forgiveness and mercy to all, freely and without cost.
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 of Jesus Christ 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!
|Like this unique balsam tree bearing crimson mastic,|
Jesus Christ shed His blood willingly for all mankind.
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.
Perhaps not coincidentally, there are numerous balsam trees whose sap is actually deep crimson when it seeps out of the bark. 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 become clean, and so we can partake of that gift in full measure and potency (Isaiah 1:18).
|At the sacrament table we come unto Christ to partake of His flesh|
and blood with the promise that we "may have His Spirit to be
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 it 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 the prophet Elijah, a widow, and her son in the place called Zarapheth (1 Kings 17:7-16). The grace of the Messiah is endless and ever-present; it is the light which is never extinguished, and the fuel that is never exhausted. His power is as an everlasting light unto the nations of the earth, lighting the way back to the Father, to be exalted on high in the presence of the Almighty God and his angels.
|Jesus rescues the captive and heals the wounded.|
"Bind Up the Brokenhearted"
by Sandy Freckleton Gagon
Copyright © Sandy Freckleton Gagon
Where sin, hurt, unkindness, judgment, 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; some may not agree with that notion. Even the smallest wounds can come back to haunt us just by the reminders that are attached to them. Though God is willing to “remember [our] sins no more” as we sincerely repent, people like me don’t forget our mistakes as graciously (D&C 58:42). 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 or days 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 Nader