"If you could switch lives with anyone, who would you choose and why?"

I'm not sure where the question came from. It could have been one of those deep get-to-know-you games that come with a box of cards filled with questions (I have an OCD-like tendency to read the text of every card in a game even if I don't plan to play it) or a copy of Reader's Digest that sat around my parents' home.

Whatever the source, the answer has always been "no one." My life has always been mine alone, because God is in charge. And He knows what He's doing.

As a kid, my life was total bliss. I wouldn't have changed it for anything. I had an awesome family, freedom, a love of all things written, and a double dose of crazy imagination. Schoenbeck was the only really busy street I had to cross to get to the library, and before I was 10 I had convinced the librarians to let me check out books without a chaperone... and fill my Radio Flyer red wagon (the one with the wooden boards you put on the sides) with 50 books at a time to take home to read after school. Summers were even better. I could lie on our trampoline with an entire book series sprawled around me and no one would ever interrupt me for food or chores or anything. And if I wasn't done reading when the sun went down, I'd hide under the covers with a flashlight until I was. We had a huge tree in my front yard that had a hole in the side that was always full of sawdust and sap. I'd mix them together with water, call it glue, then hide it and forget about it for months. I tried dozens of times to grow roses from bouquets. Every time my mom got flowers I'd wait as long as I could (2 days), then take them to the basement, cut off the flower (or not, depending on the most current method), dip them in a solution made by boiling willow twigs taken from my neighbors yard, then carefully place them in soil inside a 2-liter terrarium or plastic bag. The stems always rotted, but that was ok. I always believed it would work the next time... because that's how life was.

I didn't have many friends, and even fewer close to my age. But I didn't feel alone. I was happy. The closest person to me outside my family was also my babysitter. She lent me books, and indulged my overactive imagination for hours on end. I didn't need anything else. If someone had asked me if I wanted to trade lives, I would have laughed. My life was perfect. 

But at 10 years old I had an experience. My brain trashes a lot of important information, but this is still there. I was standing on our back patio, and the realization hit me that my life was too good to be true. Life isn't meant to be perfect. It's not meant to be easy. Breezing through classes, starring on the swim team, always knowing the right answers... yes, my life was awesome. But it was too good. Life is meant to be hard, right? Mine wasn't. And then came the thought. "Enjoy it," it said, "because life won't always be this easy."

I think that was God warning me that my perfect bliss was soon to end.

It was only a few years later that I encountered addiction. My voracious appetite for learning and discovering new things had taken me down all sorts of exciting roads, and one day it took me too far. I don't remember how it started, but it did, and I found myself fighting with something so strong I didn't know how to handle it. And since I had never needed anyone before, it didn't even occur to me to ask for help. I fought and pushed and struggled... and then my brain decided to push me off the edge. Overactive neurotransmitters began constant bipolar cycles of highs and lows. During the lows, I closed off from everyone, curled up in my bed, cried constantly, and prayed for God to kill me in my sleep. I assumed it was normal. People have good days and bad days. I just wanted to die on my bad days. But I kept trying. I finally gained control of my life, pulled myself up and, for a brief moment, felt free once again... and then I was sexually abused. My foundation crumbled, addiction came back stronger than ever, and life itself fell apart. To make matters even worse, I then realized that I had no friends, and suddenly had an insatiable need to have them... but every attempt to find them met with disaster. I felt completely and utterly alone.

At this point, I again honestly would not have traded my life with anyone. Not because I didn't want another life. On the contrary, I found myself wishing I had been born in any other possible circumstance. I could rarely sleep at night anyway, and when I did, I had dreams about how blissful other people's lives would be, and how deeply I wanted my own to end. The reason I wouldn't trade my life is because I wouldn't have wished my life on my worst enemy. Not that I really had any. It's hard to make enemies when you can't have more than a single informal conversation with someone.

It was during this time - the vortex of turmoil and emotion and the mess of everything happening in my brain - that I came to know God. The turning point was getting my patriarchal blessing. Among other things I didn't understand, it assured me that I would live a long life. Not really the answer I had wanted to my prayers for an early death... but it was an answer nonetheless. So, one night, I stopped asking for God to kill me in my sleep. Instead, I prayed for help finding hope in life. 

And it started to rain.

Rain is symbolic to me. It would take a dozen pages to explain what it really means, and then I still wouldn't be happy. I tried writing and deleted it. So I'll stay simple: for me, rain is a symbol of God's love.

So when from clear skies it began to rain, thunder, and lightning that night as I prayed, that was God again, this time telling me that it would all work out.

It didn't happen overnight. It took me years to pull myself from addiction, and even after my mission I found myself staring it again in the face. I still didn't have any friends... and even when people tried to be my friends it didn't work. I found myself unable to function every time depression hit, and although I thought I was completely normal, something kept telling me that there was something that I didn't completely understand.

But today, with the understanding I do have, I again wouldn't trade my life for anything. It's not because my life is perfect. Far from it - I'm still autistic, and God still has plenty of challenges in store for me. It's also not because I wouldn't wish it on anyone. If someone honestly needed the things I've learned in my life, I'd be ok with God allowing them to have my exact same experience.

No. I wouldn't trade my life for anything because of the things I've learned and the person I've become.

Some days I wonder how my life would have been if things had gone differently. If I had been diagnosed with autism as a kid, maybe someone would have taught me social skills and friendship sooner. But perhaps I wouldn't have relied so heavily on God when bipolar and same-sex attraction came to play. Without autism entirely, perhaps I'd have made friends, but I would have been more acutely aware of the bullying that happened at school... and perhaps the pain would have given me cause to be bitter. And maybe I wouldn't have had the self-control to cure myself of bipolar through extreme diet. Without being abused, I wouldn't carry deep emotional scars... but I also wouldn't have been able to touch people's lives who have been through the same experience. Without bipolar in my early years, I would have cried far fewer tears, but I wouldn't have had cause to turn to God, and I wouldn't have the relationship with Him that I do... and so perhaps it would cloud my judgment with all the rest. Without same-sex attraction, I'd be married with a family by now... but I'd lack most of my understanding of the love of God, and I definitely wouldn't feel compelled to reach out and share the gospel with others, or value the importance of good friends. 

The circumstances that God allowed in my life have given me the opportunity to shape who I am. I feel like my life is an example of the perfect confluence of God's Plan of Salvation. For me, the greatest opportunity my life's circumstances allowed was the option to give everything - especially my deepest hopes and dreams - to God. I could choose God, trust in Him, believe Him, and follow Him forever, or turn away from Him and make my own path. God pushed me up against the wall and forced me to choose... just as He does for everyone. And for that I'm eternally grateful. If He asks me to celibate for life (and that's what the law of chastity requires unless I miraculously fall in love with and marry a girl), then that's what will happen. Following God and keeping His commandments is always better than any other alternative.

God knows what He is doing. From His perspective, I believe there is no difference between trials and blessings. Not to say that He doesn't prefer one to the other - all things equal, God likes to bless His children. But, in His eyes, both trials and blessings are simply parts of the Plan. Like ingredients in a recipe. Some recipes call for more salt, some for more sugar, all depending on the initial reagent, things that happen during cooking, and the intended final result. It may not seem fair to me that my life is full of salty while my neighbor's is full of sweet, but to God it all makes sense. He knows the end from the beginning, and everything in my life is intended to help me return to Him. Soup is salty. Candy is sweet. And my neighbor came to earth a completely different person, with completely different needs, when compared to me. Every circumstance is valid, as long as God sees it useful to help His children return to Him. The circumstances of my life are my Gift from God. The choices I make with those circumstances are my Gift to Him. It took a mixture of bipolar, autism, same-sex attraction, and even abuse, specific parents, climate, and everything else to give me the experiences I needed. And I believe that He takes the same degree of care in choosing the circumstances of every soul who comes to earth, whether born without a family in a war-torn country, with a faithful family in the heart of peace, or with a family that has strayed far from the truth.

I love my life... and I wouldn't switch it for anything, because God knows what He is doing. He is in control. And, ultimately, if I give my will to Him, and follow Him, He will make me into the man He sees in me - someone far better than I could be myself.

One post ahead: Dear Little Brother (to children with same-sex parents)

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