Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Paralyzed by Fear

I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
Moroni 8:16

In a rather tearful conversation with my father recently, he said something that struck through my heart and lodged there. After quoting the above scripture, he said, "fear also casts out love."

That is when it struck me. I have been living in fear for far too long. Fear has become my shroud, my protection against the world. Even my faith is motivated by fear, fear that all my efforts will not be enough to utilize the Atonement and return me Home. I am afraid people in my life will be turned against me by a good lie and a happy mask. I am afraid that I am unmodifiable, that I am like clay with too many inclusions, that the Lord will someday give up in disgust and move on to work with purer material. I am afraid that no matter what I do, my daughters will grow to hate me and I'll be alone. I'm afraid that I'm not learning fast enough, that I'll never be good enough.

All these fears mean that I'm aimed to fail in my quest for charity before I even begin. No wonder I'm floundering, feeling lost. No wonder I'm failing to let that pure love of Christ root in my heart. The fear-crows are plucking out the seeds as soon as they sprout.

The problem is that I have no idea how to get rid of fear. Theoretically, perfect love will cast it out for me. But that leaves me in somewhat of a quandary.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Identifying Abuse

The first and hardest step for me in healing from abuse has been to understand and admit that I was in an abusive relationship. If you are in an abusive relationship, or have a loved one who you wish to help, the first thing you must realize is that it is very difficult for a victim to realize the truth. If a victim admits they have been abused, they must accept that they have been used by the person they have loved the best, spent the most time and energy on. That is no easy thing. (For ease of discussion, I am going to use "he" for the abuser and "she" for the victim for now. In a future post, I will discuss tendencies between genders in abuse.)

There are many excuses a victim makes for an abuser. Two of the most common are 1) but he never hit me*, and 2) everyone does that, so it's not really abuse. Both excuses downplay the impact of the abuse. The first operates under the very common and unfortunate attitude that abuse is physical violence. In actuality, physical violence is only the more easily demonstrated portion of abuse. Look at it this way. If a husband tripped and fell against his wife, breaking her arm, it would be merely an accident. If, however, a husband wanted a wife to make him dinner and pushes her against a wall, breaking her arm, it would be abuse. The difference is not the injury. The difference is the emotional environment around the injury. The injury itself is incidental.

The second excuse I have heard (everyone does that) is used when a victim has been convinced that the behavior is normal. Sometimes it is because the victim was abused as a child. Rarely it is because the victim herself is an abuser. Often, it is because the victim does not want to be seen as different from everyone around her. Some abusers use the fear of being unloved to isolate their victims by convincing them that they deserve the abuse or that it is normal.

In an LDS framework, abuse has a particular outlet. The LDS Church is structured under the order of the Priesthood. When the priesthood is misunderstood as a tool of authority, it becomes the method of abuse. The scriptures call this "unrighteous dominion". Spouses are taught to honor each other, to look first within themselves to make changes in the marriage, and that marriage is a sacred and holy covenant which should not be broken. All of these things are true and good most of the time. However, without a complete understanding of the Priesthood and the covenant of marriage, these attitudes can utterly trap a victim.

To use an analogy which was used on me, imagine you are at a baseball game, and a man trips and spills beer all over you. You tell him not to worry, that it was an accident, and you forgive him. Nine people out of ten will look at you and think "Oh, what a nice person." The last will see potential prey. There are two parts to an abusive relationship: the abuser and the victim.

When I was presented with that, I thought to myself "but I want to be a nice person! I don't want to turn my back on Christian values of kindness and forgiveness, simply because there are those out there who will take advantage of me." Victims tend to see the world with a paradigm of mutuality. They want relationships to be mutually beneficial. Abusers tend to see the world with a paradigm of control. They want to be in control of their environment as much as possible, and are willing to go to lengths they would otherwise be horrified by to obtain it. A victim does not need to abandon divine compassion. It needs to be tempered, however, with divine judgment. We spend so much time avoiding judging others, we sometimes forget to judge situations. Relationships need to be examined with guidance from the Holy Spirit to make certain that they are divinely balanced. If the bad in a relationship cannot be pruned away to leave room for the good, sometimes the entire relationship must be "hewn down", however painful the process is. Otherwise, it will take over the entire life of the vineyard. Once a victim has done her best (and that can only be determined by the victim and the Lord), and the abusive relationship is destroying the rest of her life, it is time for the final harvest.

One last thing I would like to mention. Couples counseling is strongly not recommended for couples in abusive relationships. Couples counseling only sets a new playground for abuse. Unless a counselor is trained and experienced with abuse, the abuse can go on during counseling. The best way for a third party to measure abuse is not in the actions of the abuser, but in the reactions of the victim. When a person becomes familiar with the patterns of abuse and otherwise seemingly irrational reactions of a victim, it is easy to spot the difference between true abuse and "mere" marital disharmony.

For more information, please read this. It is a wonderfully balanced discussion on abuse in an LDS framework.

*If you have a loved one in an emotionally abusive relationship, I strongly recommend "But He Never Hit Me" by Dr. Jill Murray. I believe that book literally and figuratively saved my life.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Abuse Without a Bruise

I have been unable to write about this topic for some time, but I feel in my heart that there is something I can add to all that has been said about abuse. I will probably be doing several posts on this topic, as I have learned far more than I ever cared to know about abuse and how our society, culture, and government deal (and not deal) with it.

Although there are pages and pages of information about abuse, and many organizations to help women escape from abuse, I feel there is a huge gap between the reality of abuse and popular understanding of it. Much of that gap can be filled by understanding the mechanics of what abuse really is and in using gospel principles to heal.

Putting hands on a person, which tends to be the only recognized sign of abuse, is only the pinnacle of the problem. Like the worn-out analogy of an iceberg, the reality of abuse, the substance of it, lies far below what can be seen and measured.

There is a problem with this, however. A government or organization cannot deal with something unmeasurable. The government can only punish for what it can see, it cannot protect. It cannot stop abuse in time to save the hearts and souls of the victims. By the time bruises can be seen, the pattern of abuse has progressed too far. Lives are often irrevocably damaged, and people are left to live with some element of fear in their hearts for the rest of their days. No, the government cannot see, understand, or stop abuse.

There is only one person who can free a victim of abuse, and that is the victim.

Unfortunately, there is little information about all that lies below the surface until a person lives it. If you are like I was, you believe that abuse is easy to define and then to stop. If a person hits you, that is abuse, and you can get out.

Unfortunately, all the hard work of abuse has already been done by the time a finger is laid on the victim. An abuser spends a great deal of time and energy emotionally and mentally destabilizing a victim. Much like a torturer, the abuser carefully manipulates a victim into a state of mind where the victim believes their pain is their own fault. They come to believe that if only they were (good, smart, strong, beautiful, giving, obedient, hard-working) enough, they wouldn't hurt any more. An abuser creates a world for the victim where the victim continually searches for something—anything—to change in themselves to make it better. As soon as a victim finds a way to comply with the demands of the abuser, the abuser changes the rules and the victim is left standing on shifting sands, with nothing they can do to make things better, mired in a downward spiral of self-recrimination, desperately searching for the magic change that will never exist. Then, when the physical blows come, they are left with no strength of mind to resist, and they are at the mercy of the abuser.

Yes, the substance of abuse happens long before the first wound is inflicted. Otherwise, no one would tolerate being abused.

The only way to stop abuse cold is to educate people. Neighbors and friends who recognize signs of isolation will not allow a victim to be isolated. Victims who recognize the struggle for control that abuse really is will be able to identify the problem where it really lies: within the abuser.

I intend to educate as well as I am able, within the small framework I have been given, and in the light of gospel principles. If I can help one person recognize that they are in an abusive relationship before they actually get hurt, it will be worth it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

(Do) I Belong to the Church of Jesus Christ . . . (?)

There is a feeling of belonging that I, growing up as a military dependent to a decidedly non-pro-military social worker, have only rarely felt. In fact, I think it safe to say that the only time I have ever felt that I belonged somewhere was before I was married when I attended the temple. One place I decidedly do not feel a part of a group is in church on Sunday. Although my current situation exacerbates this feeling, it is nothing new.

Once, when I went to attend Conference just after the Conference Center was built, I did not know that tickets were necessary to attend. I found myself standing awkwardly with a group of strangers on the sidelines, watching the-Ones-with-Tickets file into the doors. As I was shunted up through a side door and to the nosebleeds, I got a taste of what it must have felt like to be a Jew in the early stages of Nazi Germany, a segregated person after the Civil War, one of the Untouchables in Indian society, or one of the ignorant converts in a very closely knit religious society. At the time, I had not felt more obviously different from the rest of Church membership than I did that day. When I hear various interest groups—LDS feminists, intellectuals, non-Utah Mormons, gay/lesbian members, recent converts—talk about wanting to feel a part of the Church, my heart resonates with their desires even though I really belong to none of these sub-groups.

I have thought long and hard on feelings of estrangement throughout my life in the Church. It occurs to me that almost everyone feels outside of the group at one time or another. Whether we are different because of age, background, personality, beliefs, skin color, height, or any other factor, we still feel the sharp, cold sting of being other than those around us. Three things have helped me soften that sting.

First, to realize that my feelings belong to me alone. No one can make me feel anything, nor can anyone change how I feel without my cooperation.

Second, that my differences give me the ability to serve in the Church in ways that others may not be able to serve. That might not be appreciated by others, but it is necessary all the same.

Most importantly, that no matter the circumstance that sets me apart from other members of the Church, there is one unifying factor that makes my differences meaningless; my faith in Christ and His prophets. I believe on Christ and rely on Him. I believe that He is working through the leadership of the Church to bring about His great purposes.

It doesn't matter if other members of the Church see me as strange, or hold me in contempt because I don't understand workings of the Church or the gospel of Christ the way they understand it. I know that my Father and my Savior have bonded me to Them through the Spirit. In the end, I am answerable only to Them. That is why I can happily declare that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know who I am. I know God's plan, and I'll follow Him in faith.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Pornography is Wrong (It's Not Really About Sex)

I have recently gone through a drastic paradigm shift that has led me to understand several gospel principles in a new way. One of these is pornography.

There is a great deal of discussion about pornography in the LDS blog world. At the risk of oversimplification, essentially the discussions involve three basic views. First, that pornography is evil because it exploits women and plays upon natural man drives. Second, that pornography in moderation is not that bad if it helps husbands and wives have a more fulfilling sex life. Third, that there is really nothing wrong with pornography because the women who are depicted choose their careers, and would do it whether or not any particular person used it.

But there is another, more insidious aspect to pornography that I believe may greatly damage the lives of anyone it touches in ways that ripple out to destroy wives, children and friends.

While I have not ever been involved in pornography, there is a certain level of it which cannot be entirely avoided in today's society, so I am minimally familiar with the concept. Generally speaking, pornography involves showing people in various states of undress, or depicting a sexual encounter through stories, but nakedness and sex are not what defines pornography. In fact, pornography can consist of people entirely modestly dressed, and often does. Sometimes an actual sexual encounter does not even need to be depicted or described. Pornography is not nakedness, it is the depiction of forbidden or unattainable sexual desires in a way that allows the viewer or reader to direct the fulfillment of those desires.

When a person views a pornographic picture or reads a pornographic story, they are in some ways putting themselves into the scene. They are able to fantasize about doing something that they cannot do in real life. Essentially all forms of pornography involve having someone else do what you want them to do.

In short, pornography is a way of finding sexual gratification that circumvents the agency of another person. It is about control, not about sex.

In normal, healthy, husband-and-wife sex, two people have to work together to find mutual pleasure and joy in physical expression. That's why it is such hard work, and why so many people struggle with it. It is not that there is anything wrong with the individuals, it is that divinely-sanctioned sex is not meant to be easy. It is not meant to be about fulfilling one's own needs, it is meant to be about seeking ways to meet a spouse's needs. When two people attempt this, there are bound to be missteps along the way. However, when this is done, husband and wife form strong bonds of love as they seek their spouse's needs before their own (very powerful) ones. Sex should be a form of charity held sacred to be performed only between husband and wife, so there can be a bond between them that no others share.

When a person seeks physical fulfillment in ways that ignore the agency of another person, they objectify and thus can manipulate a person (even if it is only in their own fantasy, and even if it is on a strictly limited basis). That person mocks one of the most important laws of God: the law of agency. They then damage their ability to find pleasure in giving, grinding grooves of habit that make it impossible for them to associate sex with selflessness.

Once a person ties their sexual pleasure to control and manipulation, other aspects of the marital relationship assume the taint of a need to control. Then that person can easily begin to see all relationships as relationships of control. When a relationship is about control, it is no longer of God.

If you look at scripture, about Satanic interaction with mankind as compared to divine interaction, you will see that relationships with God never, never violate the principle of agency: of choice and accountability. Satan almost always tempts in one of three ways: by convincing us there is no choice, by convincing us there is no consequence, or by telling us that we do not have to be accountable for what we choose, that it somehow isn't our fault.

Is pornography wrong because it exploits women? Undoubtedly. But it also exploits the viewer or reader, teaching them that joy comes only from control. In the end, that is far more damaging.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Temple and Squeaky Shoes

I went to the temple again for the first time in awhile. It's funny to think that, at one point, I went every week, craving the peace and tranquility, the feeling of home. Now attendance is painful. I don't really feel a part of anything there any more, and what I do feel causes me to cry, which I hate doing. But I went because I knew I needed to, and because I had promised my mother I would.

I walked through the doors feeling like I did not belong. As I went through the foyer, I felt all eyes on me. My shoes, the only black dress shoes I own, squeak loudly when I walk, a fact that wasn't nearly so noticeable when I was walking outside. I wondered if they saw me as the interloper I felt, with my squeaky shoes announcing my presence with every step. I never liked those shoes particularly, but for a moment they became the symbol of all that has gone wrong in my life, of all that has labeled me a failure, and I hated them. I kept walking anyways.

Because scheduling is pretty tight, and because I didn't know if I could endure an endowment session just then, I participated in initiatory. I did fairly well at first, but by the second name I could no longer help myself, and tears rolled down my cheeks. One kind ordinance worker also teared up. I'm sure she thought I was moved by the Spirit, but I wasn't. I was moved by self-pity. I hated myself for that, too, wishing and praying that my feelings were different than they were.

Midway through the third name, a new worker came in. She had never done this particular ordinance, and she stumbled over nearly every phrase. I smiled at her, and nodded reassuringly, glad to have something to think about besides my own inadequacies. Her trainer said, "She is just learning." I crumbled as the Spirit electrified that message in my heart. I realized that I am just learning, too. I'm new to my particular position in life, and I am just learning how to do it, making mistakes, feeling inadequate.

As I walked out of the temple in my squeaky shoes, I realized that they didn't matter. Perhaps others were looking at me, wondering why I wore such noisy shoes, wondering if I even belonged in the temple at all. Maybe I don't really belong there. In the Atonement of Christ, it doesn't matter. I am just learning.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I am sorry for not writing more often. I would try to excuse myself by claiming to have a great deal on my plate right now, but the truth is that it's not really time (though short) keeping me from writing, any more than it is my new daughter keeping me on the bench in Fast Sunday's testimony meeting.

Even now, I begin to write and find myself stalling. I don't know any more what I ought to write, what I should and should not do or say or think. I knew I could never post the things I have just written, so I deleted them. But I'm posting this much because I know that many amazing people read my posts here, and I want to let them . . . to let you know that I'm okay. I'm in a rough spot, confused and lonely, but I'll get through it.

Keep praying for me, please. I'll keep praying for all of you, that I can think of something worthwhile to share.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cast Not Away Your Confidence

I am still in the midst of a very difficult part of my life. Unlike most difficulties in my past, this is not short-lived, nor will it simply disappear in time. Part of what makes it difficult is that I am very prone to putting myself in another's place, and of feeling deeply another's pain. One might say this is no vice, but it means that others' opinions of me matter far more than my own, and that I constantly doubt myself and who I am before God. For the past year or so, I have come to realize that God is not susceptable to others' opinions of Him. Therefore, I see that the gift of empathy in me has become rather corrupted, modeling an attribute that is not of God and serves to give the Adversary a wedge to drive between me and my Maker.

Only last night, after I struggled to communicate what I am feeling without sabotaging another's opportunities, and feeling as if I failed miserably, I surrendered to painful self-reflection. I realized that I am separated from my God right now by a keen lack of confidence in myself before Him. Although I can logically look at my life, and see that I have done right in the sight of God, I have been emotionally damaged to the point where I have trouble believing it, and find myself seeking others' validation. I spent a sleepless night pondering my place in His eyes, and pleading with Him to help me understand whatever it is I am not understanding. I felt prompted to read my scriptures in the middle of the night, and was directed to Hebrews 10 and 11.

"Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise."

This was painful to me, because it is exactly what I fear: that I have not done the will of God despite all my attempts to do so, that somehow in the end all my efforts will not be enough.

I read on to chapter 11, which speaks of faith as the substance of things hoped for, etc. This is a very familiar passage to me, but this time I noticed several breaks in the usual narrative. The first was that "without faith it is impossible to please [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him."

The power of this verse struck me deeply. I may not be right, I may not have done everything the way I might wish to have done it, there is no way for me to know for sure. Yet one thing I know: that I have done my best to seek God and His will. It does not say that God rewards those who are perfect, it says that he rewards those who seek Him. The promises that He has made to me, which now seem like dust, are not dead as I fear. I am in His hands. My life is in His hands. My struggle to forgive as new wounds are inflicted is known to Him. He has seen me struggle to feed my children and make ends meet, He has seen me try my best to turn the other cheek and not revile again, He has seen my pain as those in authority are blinded by rationalization. He has seen how much work and effort I put in to make things in my life work the way they were supposed to work, and has guided me through learning that it is time to take another path.

The scripture says later that Sarah, Abraham's wife, had Isaac because she "judged him faithful who had promised." In other words, God had promised rich blessings, as He has to me, and I have worked hard to make myself the sort of person who can receive those blessings. It is in Him to make it happen. It speaks of Abraham's seed who "confess themselves strangers and pilgrims on the earth," as I have often felt, because they seek "a better country . . . a heavenly [country]." Because Abraham believed the Lord, he went to sacrifice his only son, believing that God would raise him again because God had promised that in him Abraham would have his seed.

Chapter twelve begins with a final poignant thought for me, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, (rather as I am,) let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us." In other words, set aside the worries and cares, and do not let yourself be separated from God. "And let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith . . . . For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, let ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord . . . for whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth . . . ." And if you endure chastening, you belong to God.

It does not matter that, despite the truth of my claims, the evidence of which will likely never be reviewed by those who matter, and the infamy of the opposition, they seem to be believed. I know the truth. They know the truth. Most importantly, God knows the truth, and I can keep my confidence in Him who has promised.

Friday, August 7, 2009

All Things are Possible

"And [Jesus] went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt."
Mark 14:35-36

The moments of Christ's greatest suffering are unrecorded, but this verse opens a small window into the deeply personal thoughts and feelings of our Savior at the time of His Atonement. It has brought me great strength to read these words at a time when I imagine I feel much as He felt. How often I have prayed to have the cup of my current situation in life taken from me, yet known by the Spirit that I have been called to drink it all—down to the very dregs.

Some wonder at the truth that God can take away pain, but does not. How could a loving Father see such suffering? I know as deeply as I have suffered of late, as broken as I have been, others—at least One Other—have suffered more, and He, unlike me, being completely innocent of any mistakes leading to that end.

Somehow, I feel I have been called to this work, to my life as it is now. I know the Spirit prompted me to make the choices which have led up to this. I hope and believe that the Lord has great blessings in store for me, that my suffering will be "but a small moment", no matter how deeply devastating it seems now.

Another of my favorite stories of the ministry of the Savior tells of a father who brings his son to be healed of what may be epilepsy. Any who have seen seizures know how frightening it can be to see someone shaking uncontrollably, especially a small babe or child. I can only imagine how it felt for that father to be so helpless in the face of his son's disease. It must have seemed like his last hope to bring his child to the Healer. Jesus does not only heal the boy, he takes a moment to heal the father as well, saying "all things are possible to him that believeth."

The father responds desperately, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." I have prayed at times, "Father, I am so weak. I want to be strong, I want to have faith in Thy promises. Please, help me believe."

And He has.

As I look into a grey future, filled with unknowable fear and difficulty, I waver sometimes. Sometimes I see my weakness, and know I can never do this. I plead with Him to let the cup of my calling pass, but in the end I am strengthened. Good friends have come to support me from both sides of the veil. The scriptures have been an unending support. And I feel my Savior standing there, watching over me and helping me believe that to Him, all things are possible.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Phenomenon of Projection and the Nature of God

I have had reason to think about how we, as people, tend to define our world as how we see it. I don't mean simply perceiving the world through our own eyes, but stubbornly and consistently recreating the world in our own image.

For example, if a person is a habitual liar, they will see those around them as liars and distrust everything, finding it difficult to recognize truth even when presented with it. If a person is generous, examples of selfishness are easily explained away or enter that person's sphere only with a strong shock.

I believe this is why many people find things in the Church, and with God in a more general sense, so difficult to comprehend. They find themselves leaving the Church, or abandoning God because neither fit their own world view.

If a person is convinced that killing is wrong under any circumstance, for example, they will have a hard time with the passage in the Book of Mormon where Nephi kills Laban. If a person believes strongly in tolerance at all costs, they will find it difficult to reconcile the guideline of tolerating a person without tolerating their behavior.

This realization has led me to a great deal of self-reflection as I ponder over the question of how I perceive the nature of God. How much of my perception of Him is colored by my perception of myself? How much am I creating God (or His church) in my own image?

The first step to unraveling this is to do one of the most difficult tasks imaginable: to honestly categorize how I see myself. So, stream of consciousness came up with this:
I see myself as a relatively patient person with a very impatient streak against which I must guard myself at all times, particularly when I'm tired. I am a perfectionist in myself, and see myself as an ever-failing being. I don't believe that my best efforts will ever amount to much. I am painfully self-obsessed, always criticizing my own actions. I struggle against awkwardness, and long for a place to feel at home. I love living things, animals and plants, and am renewed when I can take care of people and living things. I am woefully inadequate at showing love and affection, and at doing what I need to to care for people. I am very sensitive and emotionally tender, but with a hard outer shell of protection and rigid spine which I must consciously soften at times. I will obey the law to the best of my abilities, even when it means personal discomfort, but I have to always keep an eye open against being judgmental. I like order and cleanliness, but have resigned myself to a certain level of chaos to preserve peace of mind. I feel ignorant, but feel that the blessings of God have begun to lead me down a path of wisdom at times.
I think that is more than enough to start with.

So, how do I see God as a result of my self-perception?
  1. God is loving and caring.
    I believe that God derives his power from caring for His children. When He tells us that it is His "work" and "glory" to bring about our eternal life and immortality, I think He means it quite literally. That is why, of all the titles He can claim, His favorite is "Father".

  2. God is a God of order.
    I believe that God is powerful because He knows the laws of existence. He is omnipotent because He works with the nature of things as they really are. It seems ironic that power is gained through compliance and submission, but I feel this is consistent with the Gospel as demonstrated by our Savior, and is consistent with what I have observed in my own life.

  3. God is tender and compassionate.
    I believe that somehow, God mourns for us—with us. Although, with Enoch, I do not understand how an infinite God could have the personality necessary to weep, I feel that He does. He is capable of mourning with us without saving us from the lessons we must learn.

  4. I feel that God is omniscient, omnipotent, all-wise.
    Despite much popular philosophy to the contrary, I believe in the seeming dichotomy of a all-powerful, all-knowing God. I believe this is possible because he is also all-wise. He has recognized that sorrow and pain are necessary to achieve true joy. Therefore, He will suffer us to endure pain despite being able to stop it, so that we might achieve as much intelligence as we are willing to accept. I believe that the process of our choices here creates the future He understands and knows. I believe that it is possible for us to be what He is in every meaningful sense of the word. I believe it because He has promised it. I think that interpreting John 5:19 to say that the Father must have been a Savior as Christ is takes the Lord's words completely out of context and misses the greater point. I know that God has promised that we will be heirs as Christ is an heir, and what that exactly means does not matter to me right now. I suspect I understand far more of it than I remember while on this earth, and am willing to leave that for later without speculating on it, or wresting scripture to match my logic. I have more than enough to manage as is without borrowing trouble from the other side of the veil. I believe that God will always be my Father, however, just as my father on earth will always be my father, no matter that I become a self-sufficient adult, just as he is, with children of my own.
Of course, God has long conquered any failures and sense of weakness that He may have had. He does not possess the weakness I have now as a condition of my mortality. And, when I really think about my life and the changes I have been through, I suspect that my understanding of the nature of God is not so much based on how I see myself, but that as I have come to know Him better, and allowed Him to guide me in my life, His nature has begun to shine through mine.

I hope that is the case, for my greatest desire is to be like Him and with Him.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

True Prayer

I am finally getting around to reading June's Ensign. For some reason, until Friday morning, I felt little desire to read Elder Uchtdorf's message meant to be used for home teaching. That morning, however, I felt drawn to it. His messages often speak to my heart, and this one was no different.

It never ceases to astonish me how the things I have been taught by the Spirit often come into concrete description as I read scripture. Once, I read to learn. Lately, it seems I read to cement knowledge in my mind and heart. As I read this article, one phrase in particular stood out to me: "Our prayers should spring from our deepest yearning to be one with our Father in Heaven."

As I read this, the thought came clearly that not only should prayers spring from our desire to be one with God, but that our prayers are that desire. When Amulek taught that we should "let [our] hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for [our] welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around [us]," he was referring to this desire to be one with God, and to be one with His other children.

In Luke, Jesus teaches that if we pray always, we "may be accounted worthy to escape all [the] things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." In other words, if we are able to make the desire to be one with God, and one with His other children (which may be called charity) part of our deepest yearning, part of what imprints our very souls, we will be worthy to escape the consequences of sin and unite ourselves with the Savior.

I do not think that this is a fringe doctrine. I believe it is the doctrine around which everything in the Gospel hinges. It is this yearning to not only be one with God the Father ourselves, but to be one with all of His children who also yearn to be one with Him, that caused the greatest spirit of us all to humbly and meekly submit to spiritual, emotional and physical pain beyond imagining. It is the pain He suffered—which He did not need to suffer—which enabled Him to offer us freedom from that pain, to offer the cancellation of that debt we incur when we sin.

"And [this] remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love (the desire to be united with our brothers and sisters), which love endureth by diligence unto prayer (the desire to be united to God), until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God."
Moroni 8:26

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rated "R" for "Rather Not, Thank You"

Thank you to those of you who have posted feedback in my previous post. I'm working my way up the comments, because of the complexity of some of the topics. Know that I'm not ignoring them, just having to ponder more deeply. My view on media watching, however, is something I've had to exercise many times and therefore it is rather well formed.

Originally, I had a rather loose view of movie-watching. I saw one or two R-rated movies, and several PG-13. When I was about 15, I discovered that I was somewhere I did not want to be, spiritually, and decided that I wanted to change my life. After prayer, fasting and pondering, I felt impressed to offer a symbol to the Lord of my desire to change: I would not watch any movies rated PG-13 and above.

In the years after that personal covenant, I forgot why I had made it, though I did not forget my resolve. Most of my friends ridiculed me for that decision at first, but eventually came to uphold it, generously changing their plans to accommodate my oddity. There were a couple of times I was told a movie was PG, only to find it rated PG-13 after beginning to watch it. At one point, I remember going home from a night out because I knew Monty Python and the Holy Grail was most certainly not a PG movie once it got to the Castle of Anthrax, despite what I had been told.

At any rate, despite feeling stupid on multiple occasions, I managed to live by my decision. It wasn't until a few years later while I was serving a mission that someone asked me why I did not watch PG-13 movies. It set me back for a few minutes, because I did not remember. Then it came to me, the moment I had covenanted with the Lord that if I did this, He would help me change my life.

The feeling was incredible as I reviewed my life and the direction it had taken since I chose to make that small offering to the Lord. Although I had not remembered the covenant, the Lord had upheld it so richly. I knew I had been blessed beyond measure for this comparatively tiny effort.

In addition to no longer watching PG-13 or above movies, I no longer had the desire to watch television or listen to the radio much. Movies themselves were not even that important to me. I still enjoy a movie now or then, or the chance to relax in front of the television, but the media in general were not nearly the hub of my schedule the way they had once been.

All that being said, I think that the choice to watch or not to watch is entirely between an individual and the Lord. For me, the things I was watching were taking me away from Him one chip at a time. Another person may not be so affected. I have no desire to preach my way as the right decision to make for everyone. In fact, I find it interesting that the new Strength of Youth pamphlet makes no specific recommendation for ratings-watching. It summarizes by giving the One True Standard of Discernment:
[I]f you have any question about whether a particular movie, book, or other form of entertainment is appropriate, don't see it, don't read it, don't participate.
This is the key, in my mind. As I have lived this principle, I find myself better able to discern what media brings me down, and what is uplifting and/or productively instructive. I have even found myself walking out of PG movies, at times. The Lord has blessed me beyond all expectation for using this standard in conjunction with my own personal covenant, and that is all I can say.

Now, I find so many wonderful things to do, even average-to-good television and movies often seem a waste of time. Even my reading has been tempered by my gradually growing dislike of time-wasting through various media (and I'm a confirmed bibliophile.) There is a time, place and purpose for entertainment, but it is a relatively small one when seen within the framework of all the productive, creative, beautiful things there are to do. How much more wonderful is it to stand over a weeded garden, share my testimony in blogging, admire a completed quilt block, or listen to my daughter flawlessly recite her colors when compared to switching off the television before going to bed?

There really is no comparison.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Plea for Feedback

I have finished my series of posts on the Articles of Faith and how I have gained a testimony of each of the principles, and wanted to know if there are any topics that anyone wants me to address. All suggestions will be considered, and if none come than you will all be at the mercy of my whims.

You have been warned.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Believe in Virtue

Articles of Faith #13
[I] believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, [I] may say that [I] follow the admonition of Paul—[I] believe all things, [I] hope all things, [I] have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, [I] seek after these things.

This is the last of my series on the Articles of Faith, and perhaps one of the most poignant for me right now. I have thought on this Article since I first began writing these statements of my personal faith just short of a year ago. I little knew at the time how my testimony of this particular statement would change from beginning to end. If I had realized how my hope and strength would be stretched to the breaking point as I found myself in a situation seeming to have little to do with beauty and purity, I don't think I would have had the courage to go on.

There has been some talk over the past year about virtue, in particular, as it has been added to the Young Women Values. When I once thought of virtue, I thought of a white knight, standing ready to defend the helpless at sometimes great personal sacrifice, never wavering in temptation. Now, the image is more along the lines of the Little Match Girl, cowering in a corner and lighting her own personal testimony to keep her warm, trying to share her matches with others who do not have time or interest to buy.

Virtue is something that keeps you standing tall, tattered, ragged and besmirched with mud thrown from misunderstanding hands. It is an inner loveliness that surmounts all other forms of beauty and ugliness. It makes the "most beautiful" women in the world look stale. It incorporates integrity, faith, duty, dedication, the Spirit of God, seeking everything praiseworthy, and all the things mentioned in this Article.

More than anything, I think it is the power derived from all these things.

Several times in scripture, the word "virtue" is used almost interchangeably with "power". When the woman touched Jesus's hem, he perceived that the virtue had gone out of Him—that some sort of power had gone from him to her, healing her. In Alma, they try the virtue of the word of God—preaching had more power than any other source of power they knew to change the hearts of men.

In one final example, Joseph Smith tries to teach us the secrets of Priesthood power, that it comes from virtue. I believe that this is the key misunderstanding to those who covet and misuse the Priesthood of God. There is no true power in the Priesthood except that which is gained through virtue: through the power gained in integrity, faith, and pure charity.

In the situation I find myself now, it is easy to feel as if I am cheap and used, without virtue. Yet, I am slowly being taught by the Spirit that by doing my best to follow God's will, to live true to my faith in Him and my covenants, and to do my best to be a blessing, despite my failure I come closer to a virtuous life than I was before.

I believe that true virtue can only come through the cleansing fire of the Atonement and of the Spirit. When we understand Christ and His eternal connection to us, we become purified, sanctified, and eventually exalted. How grateful I am to be drawn into the filth of this life so that I may understand the virtue and power of God.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"As All Have Not Faith"

Among the reading for Gospel Doctrine this week, is this passage from Joseph Smith to the School of the Prophets:
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."

I have often heard this scripture, but never before has the phrase "as all have not faith" struck me the way it did today. It adds a whole new depth of meaning to this passage. Not only are we to learn by study and by faith out of the best books (not just good books), but we are to do it because not everyone has faith. It is not only for our own personal advancement, but to teach others who do not have faith to understand.

There are many who find themselves constantly questioning, unable to, as they put it, "just believe". Constantly beset by crises of faith, they begin to doubt themselves, perhaps even to despise themselves or others when they compare their experiences to what others claim to feel. Yet, by the import of this passage, perhaps they demand too much of themselves. It is not given to everyone to have the conviction and/or faith that some are blessed with, and that is according to the will of God.

For those who are blessed with that burning light of faith, there is a special charge on them to go out and seek for the knowledge they, personally, may not feel they need. As they do so, they will be guided by wisdom in how to nurture, protect and love those who are not given the particular Spiritual gift of faith they are given. When they study the history and the "big issues" with an eye of faith, they can nurture the strength of the gospel not only in themselves, but also in others who cannot, no matter how they may desire, "just believe."

As far as I am concerned, this is at least part of the holy and divine purpose in blogging. Only online can so many reach towards each other, and in forgiving themselves and others of their faults, clasp hands in the Gospel. When we have weakness, we learn to rely on God and each other, and by so doing, accomplish the truest purposes of God.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Where, When My Aching Grows?

The funny thing about hard times is that it tends to clarify what you truly believe and what is most important while muddying up everything else. I really have no idea what to do or where to go from here. I can't think of anything I can do to improve my situation and protect my family any more than I am doing. That is a rather desperate feeling. Yet, I am learning what it means to turn my life over to God.

May He craft some good out of the mess I have made.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Believe in the Law

Articles of Faith #12
[I] believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

One thing that always mildly interested me as a foreign missionary in Germany was that, although two large religious groups made a habit of knocking on doors and interrupting people on the streets to share their religion, only one had a license from the government to do so. We were instructed to keep this license, a gray passport-like pamphlet, on our persons at all times.

Because we are painstakingly compliant to local laws wherever we go, the LDS church has been granted many freedoms that other religions have not always enjoyed. Countries in the Middle and Far East have welcomed us in as service missionaries when we were not allowed to proselyte. We were one of few religions allowed practice in Cold War East Germany. Doors have opened to us multiple times in multiple places because we show respect to the law.

Historically, the LDS Church was persecuted for practicing polygamy and laws were created to end it. Moving outside of US legal jurisdiction, polygamy was practiced until Utah was swallowed up in Manifest Destiny, and it was clear that there was no legal way to make it permissible. Then, the Church bowed to the law. Many are conflicted by this, feeling that if a doctrine is of God, the Church should never have submitted. But as Wilfred Woodruff asked in the footnotes of Official Declaration 1, "Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people . . . or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law . . . ?" In the case of polygamy, the eternal principle of plural marriage was temporally opposed by the principle of this Article of Faith. Eventually, a time came when the cost to the Church in not obeying the law of plural marriage was overshadowed by the cost of continuing its practice under legal opposition.

Joseph Smith also found himself arrested multiple times, but preached one of the most powerful sermons on worldly law found in religious texts. This entire section of the D&C ought to be read and pondered, particularly in the light of recent political unrest. It has given me many things to think about.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scientific Evidence for Modesty in Clothing

A study at Princeton* found that when men see pictures of women wearing bikinis, the part of their brain associated with using tools activates, and the part associated with assessing a person's motivations deactivates. The conclusion is that men see scantily-clad women as objects. This is a bit of evidence that suggests what the Lord's servants have been saying all along: that modesty is important if a person wishes to be seen as a person and not as an object.

Being a bit of a scientist, myself, I would like to see a few more studies before drawing any meaningful physiological conclusions:
  1. Men's reaction in various American cultures to sleeveless shirts and/or short skirts.
  2. Men's reaction to pictures of women they have a romantic relationship with, fully clothed and less clothed.
  3. Women's reaction to similar and analogous images.

It does indicate that the argument that men should simply deal with women dressing how they want to dress might have a few holes in it.

No pun intended.

*National Geographic

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More Than Two Years

I have been writing in this blog for nearly two and a half years, now. I have 168 posts, all but twelve published. It now averages 50-70 views on the days I post new, and receives more than half its views from direct traffic and search engines. "Self-hatred", "fear" and "joy" are among the most searched-for terms, and those searching for these three terms tend to spend the most time here. I don't watch statistics religiously, but I do check them now and again for curiosity's sake, and to see what people yearn to hear about. I also don't write slavishly, posting mostly when the spirit takes me, or when I feel particular concern about some topic. I'm not given to much thinking about my blog and the traffic, because I blog first for myself, to vent and explore my thoughts (selfish creature I am) and secondly in the hopes that someone, somewhere, some time can benefit from the lessons I have learned in the gospel, and feel the peace and love of the Lord.

Out of curiosity, I created a Wordle of the topics I have posted on during the life of this blog.

Wordle: Rains Came Down

It is rather revealing, I think. It shows very much the thoughts of my heart, things I think about all of the time, which weave in and through daily chores, loving my daughter and trying to be a good wife and mother (which topics I have largely kept out of this blog intentionally in order to separate it from my far newer and less frequently posted "mommy blog"). I have changed in the past two years, been humbled and hopefully am a little wiser than when I began. I hope I have dedicated myself a little more fully to discipleship, been humble in accepting the pruning of God.

This is by no means a good-bye, just a musing of the sort most people do in January. But to me, the year truly begins in spring. Observing life struggling once again to fill the earth causes me a little contemplation. If I could speak the desires in my heart, I would speak poetry indeed, but I rarely find words for my gratitude and aspirations.

May I focus more firmly on my Light and Salvation, and be as successful in living the things I hold most dear as well as writing about them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Every Mother's Prayer

Although it is a bit late to be making a Mother's Day post, I have had a song not far from my thoughts for several months, now. I find myself even dreaming it, but could not remember where it came from until I searched for it this morning. It is called "A Mother's Prayer", sung by Celine Dion in Quest for Camelot. It captures perfectly how I have been feeling, and the more I think about it, the more I see how it beautifully illustrates the divinity of Motherhood.

"I pray You'll be my eyes,
and watch her where she goes.
And help her to be wise,
help me to let go.

Every mother's prayer
every child knows:
lead her to a place,
guide her with Your grace
to a place where she'll be safe.

I pray she finds Your light,
and holds it in her heart.
As darkness falls each night,
remind her where You are.

Every mother's prayer
every child knows.
Need to find a place,
guide her with Your grace,
give her faith so she'll be safe.

Lead her to a place,
guide her with Your grace
to a place where she'll be safe."

I feel that when a woman touches this love, she touches the divinity and priestesshood within herself, the power equal to and complimenting the Priesthood in men. Bearing children helps the natural woman access this power, but it is possible to reach without actually carrying a child. (And it is possible to carry a child and never feel it.) In this, a woman forges a partnership with the Divine: unconditional love fused with the wisdom that understands true love is found in agency—in choice and accountability.

And, in letting go.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Harsh Reality of Faith

I usually have difficulty in discussions of the pioneers. Not because I think their trials were not hard nor that their sacrifices were not great, but because we discuss them the same way every time, praising them with beautiful phrases such as "faith in every footstep" and almost worshiping them for their sacrifices.

Recently, as I read an account of Emma crossing the frozen Mississippi with her children, I realized something about faith in reflection of my own life. It isn't pretty. It isn't a matter of overcoming despite all odds, of courageously surmounting one's foes. It is about doing what has to be done because the alternative is so much worse.

I have tasted just a little of what Emma must have felt, gazing across the frozen river, children clinging to her skirts and hanging heavily in her arms. She looked upon a frightening, dangerous journey with little to no hope of warmth or deliverance at the end of it. She would not be rewarded for it, and wouldn't even be praised for it until long after it ceased to matter to her. But she took it because what lay behind her was worse.

Physical adversity has a way of boiling one's soul down to what is most important. Wondering how one's children will eat, facing the reality of their possible and immediate deaths, losing one's hard-earned home or one's cherished dreams allows a person to see what is most important. The pioneers joined the Church despite persecution, and crossed the plains despite likely death not because they were brave, but because, when all came down to it, they knew it was true. It did not matter what others said, it did not matter that they were able to gain enough support to kill the prophet. All their ridicule and power on this earth could not change what was true. The choice of the faithful was between facing that danger, and denying what they knew to be true.

In the end, there was no contest.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Learning Humility and Charity

Most of you don't know the particulars of what I am going through right now, though I have alluded to it when posting. Although I do not yet feel at liberty to discuss even the generalities of it, I would like to share a few things I have learned.

Before I found myself in this situation, I looked down at others in similar situations with pity and judgment. I felt that their troubles were brought on them by their own mistakes and choices, and a part of me even suspected that they deserved what they got, though I would never have actually passed that judgment.

And now I find myself where they are. I cannot even say it is through no fault of my own, because I am far from innocent in the matter. I have made mistakes, huge mistakes which have illustrated some of my biggest and ugliest character flaws. Because of those mistakes, I find myself in a place which is close to the last place on earth I would want to be. I have betrayed my own deepest held values. My fondest dreams and ideals are trampled into the dirt, beyond my own power of recovery. Ironically, my mistakes were all made in an atmosphere of trying to do the right thing. Worst of all, my mistakes will affect my family and my children irrevocably, and there is nothing I can do about it now but to try to discern the lesser of great evils.

Yet, even in the midst of paying for my mistakes and seeing my children pay for my mistakes, I see how I have been blessed.

I can no longer look upon the sorrows of the human situation in the same way, even those sorrows which people bring upon themselves in their ignorance and pride. I am much more likely to view others with a soft heart and open arms. After all, I know now that "there, but for the grace of God [go I]." I have learned that no one is immune from consequence, it is only that the grace and blessings of God keep some from realizing the full depths of it.

I no longer view the Atonement the same way. Now that I have needed it in a way that goes beyond repenting for relatively small sins and errors, I understand a little more. Now I am in a situation that I can never make better, no matter what I do. I no longer see the Atonement just as a gift bestowed upon us by a generous God, but as a lifeline, just as vital as air. Without Christ's Atonement, I would have long ago given in to despair. Now I know what it means to trust God, to trust Him to care for my children when I cannot, to trust Him to grant me the desires of my heart despite my unworthiness, to trust Him to protect me from the storms of my own making.

Nor can I view the scriptures in the same way, particularly the New Testament. Now that I have been falsely accused, I perceive the strength in Christ when He remained silent. Now that I am bleeding from unseen wounds which I can't heal, when I feel dirty and unclean, do I understand the faith and courage shown by simply touching the garment of Jesus. Now I can see how it must have felt to be accepted and forgiven by the Savior, despite sin. They are not just stories any more. Now, they are real to me.

How I yearn for such acceptance from my Savior! Now, I want to be there for those who feel as I have felt, broken, lost, alone and filthy. Now, I long for a way to lift others from the filth of sin, to embrace them as brothers and sisters, to help them feel loved.

All my previous understanding of scripture, all my previous attempts to learn were nothing compared to this. I hope that I might retain this lesson in my heart, and repent.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I Believe in Missionary Work

Articles of Faith #11
We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

This may seem like a strange title for this Article of Faith. It seems to be saying, "Eh, you do what you do, and I'll do what I do, and no worries!" which is seemingly in direct contradiction to the idea of missionary work, which is to preach one's beliefs to others. The more I've pondered it, however, the more my mind kept being drawn back to missionary work.

I see missionary work differently than many, I suspect. I have seen missionary work addressed in two main strains: either the gung-ho, sling-the-Books-of-Mormon style (which has its place) or the member-example style (which also has its place). My purpose is not to belittle either, as I believe both can be effective in the right circumstances, but to explore a somewhat different approach.

On my mission, I was a bit of a proselytizer for a rather odd style of missionary work, in a time when we were being taught lesson memorization, sales tactics and literal foot-in-the-door techniques in Zone Conference. I had to memorize the first discussion, word-for-word, in German in order to be considered a "real missionary". It was expected that the other discussions would also be memorized. The more I thought of it, the more I struggled with the idea of teaching through memorization. I was not an expert in the language, despite previous German experience, but I still felt that missionary work should come from the heart and not the tongue. I felt that the words would take care of themselves, so long as a missionary did his/her best to study and learn the language. I also felt that sales tactics such as preparing a door approach, focusing on the "free book", or handing out pamphlets, tended to diminish the work, not enhance it. However effective sales tactics might be in the right hands for getting baptisms, and despite being taught such tactics nearly every district and zone meeting, I felt that baptisms were not the purpose of missionary work. The purpose was to bring people closer to God, to give them a chance to feel the Spirit, and let the Spirit teach them what God wanted them to know. If that ended in baptism and eventual exaltation, excellent! If not, then at least we had done what we could to bring the Spirit into someone's life and give them the chance to choose for themselves.

A book that strongly influenced this take on missionary work was Teaching by the Spirit by Gene R. Cook. Ironically, this book was given to me in the first two months of my mission by my mission president. It confused me at the time that the meetings were always so sales-oriented, that my outlook was so dramatically different, and yet the mission president never corrected me, never spoke against my outspoken rebuttals of what was being taught and actually had me speak on more than one occasion. Now I think I understand a little better, and I think the reason is held in this Article of Faith.

Sales tactic missionary work can help people who would otherwise do nothing out of fear or laziness. However, this style must eventually be softened by an understanding of agency and choice. A person cannot be allowed to worship "according to the dictates of their own conscience" if they are never taught their choices, if their conscience is never given a chance to dictate. If a person labors under misconceptions or ignorance, they cannot choose for themselves.

Nor do I believe that we will be held accountable for someone not hearing the gospel. We should not be motivated to engage in missionary work out of fear of punishment. We should engage out of love. If we really believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to Joseph Smith, really believe and understand it, we will want to share it because it is so amazing and healing. Then, not only will we be able to respond with love and patience when our gift is rejected (allowing all men the privilege to worship how they choose), we will be focused on actually offering a real gift to a real person in a way they will most likely be able to accept it.

That "way" will differ as widely as people will differ, and cannot be taught in a classroom. It is entirely directed by the Spirit, by One who knows the other person, their concerns and their heart. Therefore, the "tactics" which should be focused on are dedicated discipleship, purifying oneself to receive the Spirit, and prayerfully gaining knowledge so the Spirit has plenty of tools to utilize. When we are in tune with the Spirit, we will be given what to say and do. And, when and if the person chooses to reject the Spirit, they will be rejecting God, not us. We as messengers will be free to sorrow for their choices, but not to feel afraid or angry. We will be free to allow them their choice.

If we fail to follow this Article when we share the Gospel, we do not understand missionary work. We do not understand the meaning of the Book we are handing over, nor the principles we claim to share.

So yes, share the message in true love and consideration and then let go. We allow all to worship as they will (barring harm to the innocent), and we allow it by sharing what is in our hearts, by demonstrating love and conviction, and most of all by following the guidance of the Spirit and allowing Him to tell us what to do. Sometimes that may be handing over a book. Sometimes it may be mowing a lawn, or being a good example. Sometimes it may be something never dreamed of before.

Monday, April 13, 2009

That They Might Have Joy

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden for their choices, the Lord speaks to them in outwardly-harsh words, often referred to as the curse of Adam and Eve:
"Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

"And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

I have thought about this lately, especially in light of the oft-quoted scripture: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."

I have felt the weight of this verse lately, guilty because I am not as joyful as I would like to be. But as I went back and read this scripture again, I saw that as it goes on, it becomes clear that joy is a choice. It is the Atonement which has made it possible for us to choose joy.

That being said, however, the words of Christ himself are the most poignant: "ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. . . . ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you."

That is, after all, the message of Easter. It is not that Christ suffered and died for our sins. It is that He lives. It is that He lives so that our sorrows and sufferings, even our death, might end. Because of Him, there is light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of mortality. Because of Him, there is hope for healing. Our choices may cause pain for others, others' choices may cause us pain, but the Savior sealed this promise with His life: that pain has an end, that death itself has no power, and that we may be free from the hatred and judgment of Satan and those who listen to him.

It is true that this life is ordained to be a life of sorrow, but as a daughter of God still held in this mortal existence, I need not feel guilty for not now feeling the joy I long to feel. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

May the morning come soon.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cafeteria Mormonism

I have heard this term quite often, and don't think I understand it. From what I understand, a "cafeteria" belief system means that you pick and choose the doctrines and concepts you believe to be right for you out of a set of beliefs and doctrines.

Yet, I've heard the term applied to situations that don't quite seem to fit. Instead, many of these situations seem to describe a simple search for truth, and the adoption of ideas as a testimony is born from the search.

My question is, what is the difference between being a cafeteria Mormon, and a Mormon in search of truth, willing to seek after all that is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy"? Is there a difference?

I think there is, in method if not in effect.

To me, it seems that in order to be a cafeteria Mormon, you have to be picking and choosing what seems good to you, the things that appeal to you. A search for truth, in contrast, contains the willingness to choose some things that do not appeal to you because they are good. To extend the analogy, it would be like picking all the tasty foods from the cafeteria in the first case, and picking foods you feel are healthy for you in the second. In this sense, the Spirit would be the nutritionist at your shoulder, instructing you on what you should choose for optimum health.

Perhaps I am wrong in this viewpoint, and I don't understand the term "cafeteria Mormon" properly. But it seems to me that we ought to be rather careful in applying this term to anyone else.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Plea to Forgive

Shortly before conference this weekend, as I prayed and struggled to be healed from the pain in my heart, I was taught that I need to refocus on what I can do to bring my life back to Christ. At first, I was filled with resentment and fear. I resented being asked to find one more thing for me to work on, to change. I felt exhausted and drained, heartsick and weary of trying to see my behavior through others' eyes, to see what I needed to change. I was afraid that if I gave up the anger which had been lending me strength to get through the lot I have drawn, I would collapse. I was drowning in the knowledge of my weakness, and my mistakes, in feeling all the blame and guilt of the route my life has taken.

It came to me that I need to stop trying to see myself through the eyes of others, but to rely on God and His Spirit to tell me the things I need to change. Clearly and strongly, the message came to my mind that I need to replace the strength of anger with the strength of the Spirit. If I continue to let anger or fear be my support, they would fail me, but the Spirit would not.

I have faced danger for myself in the past with relative peace and faith, but now I feel that my faith was only so peaceful because my own life and safety was not as important to me as my children's. In practice, I have found that I gladly would focus any possible danger to them on myself. Through listening to Conference this weekend, I perceived the fear that has eaten a cancer into my heart, blocking my ability to commune with my Savior. I have allowed the need for stability and safety for myself and my children to override my faith in God. Only this morning, the Lord has chastened me, teaching me that my safety and even the safety of my children is not my responsibility. I have been told in clear terms that I am to cease fearing for my welfare and the welfare of my children, because so much of it is beyond my control.

Also in listening to Conference and praying afterward, I have been chastened with my lack of forgiveness. I have forgiven things in the past that I did not know I could forgive, and yet I am now against something greater than everything I have faced in the past. I need to forgive! When I first realized I was to forgive, I was resistant. I did not want to forgive. I am tired of forgiving. For once, I wanted to throw a few stones in return. So, I applied Alma's principle of faith to forgiveness. I could not pray to forgive, but I could pray for the desire to forgive.

How great the mercies of God! I have already felt the beginning desire to forgive, and found in me the ability to sincerely pray to forgive.

Pray for me, that I might reach lasting healing. That my cycle of finding strength in anger and action only to crumble again in fear might be broken, and I can be led to the Spirit for my strength. Pray with me, that I can forgive and welcome the Spirit of God back into my heart, that I can be made whole and again commune with my God, no longer fearing the changes that life brings.

I have been so blessed, and continue to be blessed. I already have so much cause to thank God, I hardly have the courage to ask for one more miracle in my life. I hope that I am following where God leads, that I can once again find peace, and that I can find a way to bless the lives of others in the way mine has been blessed by so many caring friends and strangers.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Biology vs. the Bible: To Have Joy

Wow. Just wow. Rarely has a blog post left me so glad to have read it as this one from Nathan Richardson. Something I have always known is suddenly given words and thought.

Thank you for a most powerful insight into the nature of an eternal perspective.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Spirit of Fear

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."—2 Timothy 1:7

I have had reason to be very afraid, particularly in recent months. My father gave me a blessing, and in that blessing the Lord told me not to be afraid, that there was no reason to be afraid because He was with me. At the time, I was afraid, more afraid than I have ever been in my life. There have been many times since then that I have felt the paralyzing, cold fear, and I have had many reasons to think over the words of my blessing, and to struggle to overcome this fear. Well have I understood the words of David,
"Be merciful unto me, O God . . . . Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High. [But] what time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. Every day they wrest my words: all their thoughts are against me for evil. They gather themselves together, they hide themselves, they mark my steps, when they await for my soul. Shall they escape by iniquity? . . . When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me. . . . For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?"

Well have I had cause to view my own powerlessness and unworthiness before God. I have had ample opportunity to repent and be humbled. Truly, wisdom and discretion have saved me, though I struggle daily against the desire to defend myself, to lash back.

It amazes me that the Lord God, so powerful and good, should comfort me. I know that despite the immediacy of my fears and problems to me, that they are truly small when compared to the sorrows of so many others. Yet, He finds time to succor me, to send me help and comfort.

How glorious my Savior! How worthy of praise and worship! There is nothing I would not do, should He ask it of me, because I know that He loves me and protects me, that He wishes only the best for me. How marvelous have been His gifts and comfort! How safe I can feel, knowing that even my suffering shall be turned for my good!

Sometimes it feels as if I might burst with the desire to show everyone what a marvelous God He truly is. How small the many concerns of mortal life become in light of His great peace. I hope and pray that I am found worthy to sit at His right hand and learn of Him and His ways. I would worship Him forever, and long for the power to show others of His children the truth of His glory—what it means to be glorious as He is glorious.

May I forget fear in the worship of Him, amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wherein SilverRain Gives You an Opportunity to Chastise Her

(But doesn't promise to take all criticism to heart.)

And for those of you who have no idea where this is coming from, I'll direct you back to this post and the comments thereof.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Temple Questions

There is a very interesting conversation over at Zelophehad's Daughters which I found worth linking here, in light of having no feelings towards posting something of my own.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Polygamy: Count Me as One Who Believes

An unrelated topic at T&S spun into an argument about polygamy. Quite a bit of vitriol was spit out at the concept of polygamy and those women who defend it. Although comments were closed shortly thereafter, and despite the probability of being attacked therefore, I still feel a need to testify to the divine origin of polygamy. Polygamy is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and confusing topics in the Gospel. It is also, unfortunately, one that many people get hung up on. The first disclaimer: This post contains my own feelings and opinions and understanding, and is not the doctrine of the Church. As such, I could be completely off-base. For Church doctrine, please visit: lds.org.

As another disclaimer, I will say that I am not a polygamist, nor do I have any expectation of becoming one in this life. I do not agree with the current practice of polygamy, and believe that if I were to live that law right now, I would sin. I am not affiliated with any religion or group that practices polygamy, nor do I even know or discourse with those who are. I believe in the eternal law of polygamy, not in the manner in which it is currently practiced.

Also as a preface, I will say that there were many problems with the practice of polygamy in the past history of the Church. Lines were not cleanly drawn, and the practice of polygamy then was probably not perfectly done. Like many of the doctrines of the Church (baptism for the dead being an obvious example), polygamy had its moments of misunderstanding and imperfect practice. The Lord in His infinite wisdom does not seem to concern himself with the foibles and honest mistakes of those who follow him in this matter as He does not in others, and I do not see fit to do other than follow His lead.

Certain aspects of my testimony are sacred, and I will not share them here, in a public forum. Discussion of such things is better suited to a face-to-face conversation, where the Spirit can attend and testify. Like so many other spiritual things, polygamy cannot be understood out of the context of the Spirit. I don't make a big deal about my testimony regarding polygamy, because it really doesn't apply to our current lives on this earth. But I do want to take the chance now to stand up and say that polygamy is neither evil nor degrading. Rather, it is uplifting and spiritual despite the difficulties inherent in living it.

Unlike many in and out of the Church, I never felt that the doctrine of polygamy was hidden from me. Although I did not learn about it until later in my childhood, I can't really point to a specific time I did learn of it. I still have yet to know everything about polygamy, though I know a good deal more than some. Like with anything else in the Church, upon learning of this principle, I did as I was taught to do: while researching the question, I asked God continually whether or not it was a true and eternal principle.

My answer did not come all at once, in a blinding flash of Spiritual enlightenment. Rather, it came gradually as I gradually learned the pieces of the doctrine. Reading the historical context brought understanding. Examining individual circumstances brought empathy for those who were presented this choice. I often asked myself how I would choose, were I presented with the same choice.

Eventually, I came to realize both before and after my actual marriage that I was prepared to live this principle, should I be asked to do so. Interestingly, it was always with the feeling of how I would accept my husband's theoretical subsequent wives. My conviction grew under no illusions of the difficulty of actually following it. Would it hurt if the Lord asked me to give up the exclusivity of my marriage with my husband? Undoubtedly. Would I be willing to do it? Without question.

Along with my conviction and my reading of history also grew the understanding that, although this is an eternal principle, it is not necessarily a universal one. Not every man would necessarily be asked or required to marry more than one wife. Not every woman would be asked to sacrifice the exclusivity of her relationship with her husband. But I knew that should I be one, I could do so with peace in my heart. It was—and is—an empowering realization.

It wasn't until later that I began to understand some small part of the beauty and the power of this principle. As I have come to face the possibility that I will not be in an eternal relationship while on this earth, I have come to see what a mercy it is to know that my exaltation will not be dependent on anything but my own, personal worthiness. There is plenty of opportunity to form such a bond in eternity, should I not be so blessed while here.

Exaltation is impossible for anyone alone. Not only is it necessary for Christ to redeem us, it is necessary that we be welded to another. We are not whole, alone. This does not mean our agency will ever be removed. We will never be forced to marry someone we do not choose to marry. Like any other law of heaven, we will only need follow those laws we choose to follow, and we will be blessed according to those laws we follow. We will also not be forced to allow our husband to marry another against our will. It will be discerned by God according to His laws and covenants, and His counsel and judgments will be true, right and comfortable for each of his children.

Despite the many voices raised against polygamy, I know it is a true and living principle, although I may not entirely understand it. It is a principle of mercy, compassion and Godly love. I recognize that not all will understand polygamy as I do, but this I have come to know: that it is of God, and as such, it is glorious and beautiful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blah, Blah: "Big Love", Mormons and Temples

I'll bite on this topic simply because I don't think there are enough people who don't think it's a big deal. You get some people smugly sitting back, watching other people react with outrage or disgust. You get others perplexed by the whole thing. My reaction is "eh."

The temple ordinances are sacred, not secret, as has been said many times before. They have been available for reading in their entirety for a very long time. The Church has not to my knowledge been overly concerned with temple security. Anyone with cunning, patience and will could sneak in. Additionally, anyone (member or not) who is curious about the temple can attend an open house before it is dedicated and have a great many questions answered without resorting to subterfuge. In fact, in some countries (such as Germany), the temple and its grounds can be annexed and used by the government at any time.

None of it matters to me. No amount of discussion or verbatim quotation can come close to touching on the actual ceremony. A surprising amount of the temple ceremony can be shared and discussed without breaking covenants (per Boyd K. Packers The Holy Temple) and there are very few parts that are not discussed therein. Much of the temple ceremony can be found in scripture, if you know what to look for. True, I have made covenants not to share certain aspects of the temple ceremony outside of certain areas of the temple itself, and it matters to me not in the least that others have broken their covenants to do so.

Likewise, it matters to me not in the least that some members are part of the cast, and intend to be next year. That is their issue with God, and I am no judge of it, even if I wanted to be.

So, I don't really care what other people do with things I hold sacred. They cannot tarnish my experiences in the temple no matter how they try. They can't even understand them, should they recite the ceremonies in their entirety. That is good enough for me.

I know what I have experienced in the temple. I know how I have been able to draw closer to God, better understand His love for me, and my role in life. No other place has been a sanctuary for me in the way the temple has. It is simply a natural yet infinitely beautiful part of my progression towards God. In the temple, I have drunk deeply of the Spirit. I have worshiped and been befriended by my God. What can compare?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Choosing Bitterness

I would like to briefly share a few things I have learned over the last few years, and particularly the last few months of my life. Everyone in this life is presented with choices to make. Perhaps one of the most difficult is to choose joy in the midst of affliction over bitterness.

The scriptures are rich with examples of the difference in reactions between people presented with much the same choice. The most obvious one is between Nephi, Sam, Laman and Lemuel. They were all given the choice to follow their father into the wilderness. Although all followed, they did not all follow the same way. Laman and Lemuel chose to complain, eventually succumbing to bitterness that shaped a nation's wars for the next six hundred years. Nephi and Sam chose to obey willingly.

Interestingly, Nephi, Sam and their descendants suffered equal sorrow from the choices made by Laman and Lemuel as their cousins.

This tells me that we cannot choose whether or not we will suffer sorrow in this life, but we can choose whether or not to turn to the Savior for healing. He has not been spared bitterness Himself, but He has promised that through repentance we need not suffer. For those sufferings we endure which are not the cause of our own sin, God has promised "beauty for ashes" and "joy for mourning".

We cannot enjoy the fruits of the Atonement without understanding it. It is Christ who has given us the chance to learn to distinguish between good and evil, bitter and sweet. Nor can we always make restitution for the things we do wrong. There is a point where we must humble ourselves, realize that we cannot do it, and turn it over to God. This can be even more painful when others in our lives continue to expect us to make things better which are out of our power. But Christ is the only one who can truly heal, and we must trust Him.

We must trust Him.

Beauty for Ashes, by Elder Bruce C. Hafen

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Large and Spacious Bloggernacle

There is an interesting little catfight going on as a result of an article about how LDS blogs were started. It really got me thinking about the whys and wherefores of blogging. Hearing the "authorities" of LDS blogs—those who have been around for some time, (and ironically often show dissatisfaction with the way LDS priesthood is run) bicker with the rather younger, more vital (and arguably more mainstream) "Mormon Mommy Blogs" over who played in the playground first has been illustrative.

Why blog? It seems that there are a few reasons. First, some blog because they think they have something important to share. They believe their perspective is important, and others should hear it. This tends towards "scholarly" sort of blogging. Or, maybe they just want to share their testimony with any who care to read it. Second, networking. Many blog because they want to stay in touch with friends and family. Blogging is a great way to go about it. Mommy blogs are largely of this sort. As another type of networking, some may have business networking blogs. I have one of this sort, which I've not yet used. Third, chronicling. Some may merely want to record events in their lives, whether good or bad. I have one public, but little-publicized journal-blog of that nature, and one private one. Fourth, a blogger may want to get his or her ideas out there so they can be discussed and mulled over. Maybe a person thinks better by typing, or maybe they want feedback on what they are thinking. Fifth, some blog for support. They are seeking for a community they can't find offline. This is a sort of offshoot of networking, but backwards. Rather than keeping track of those they already know offline, they are seeking others of like mind, often to get to know later.

I think I fall somewhere in the discussion and testimony-sharing categories for this blog. I don't get a ton of readers, but that doesn't particularly bother me. The ones I have are quite high-quality (in my opinion!) and willing to discuss gospel topics which are on my mind. I know some people read this who disagree with me, and I welcome those other perspectives (so long as they respect mine.)

The biggest pothole in the road of blogging is pride. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you have your own little realm of control on the web, you are somehow better or worthy of notice. Take the catfight which spawned my thoughts lately. It has gotten to a contest of who has been here longest, or who has the most readers. Realistically, it doesn't matter in the least how long you have blogged or who reads your words. If you have something of value to blog about, that is independent of recognition.

So, why the emotions and controversy? I guess deep down, we are all still just little children wanting to be loved and accepted. Me included. But, in the end, does it really matter in which wing of the Large and Spacious Bloggernacle we have decided to set up camp?

"And the large and spacious building . . . is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men. And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God. . . ."
1 Nephi 12:18

Monday, February 23, 2009

Seminary Answers

I don't have any great scriptural or spiritual insights this time. I've tried to post numerous times, but lack the current clarity to formulate what I feel while preserving the privacy of others in my life. (My own privacy is not as important to me when it comes to sharing what I have learned in the gospel, but I can't make that choice for others. I've learned something of discretion.)

To be as blunt as possible, I have little control over events in my life for now, and I am very frightened. I have tried to do the best I know how, tried to consult the Spirit, but my confidence in my ability to hear well is weak. I have received a blessing that told me I had no need to be afraid, and that angels surrounded me in protection. Knowing I am not worthy of this protection, I have nonetheless used this assurance many times in the last several days to battle my fear as it wells up and threatens to destroy my peace. It is a very real and bloody battle I have fought to have faith in my Savior. It has left my spirit somewhat tattered, and I have yet to enter the real fight.

I would like to share a few things that have kept me from drowning in my fear.

I stand at risk to hear many accusations and attacks on my character. Although my faults are many, and I am not gaining progress against them as quickly as I would like, these particular accusations are false. They come from someone who is very hurt and angry, and probably no less afraid than I am. I fear that, despite the my best efforts at impartiality, truth and concern for all parties involved, I will not be believed. I have come to cling to the Spirit's reminders that I am not the first to be falsely accused. The scriptures have assured me that I stand in good company. Job was accused of evil by his friends, Joseph Smith was surrounded by former friends and enemies thirsty for revenge. Even, and most importantly, the Son of Man himself was silent before those who accused Him wrongly. Although I am far from equal to any of these men, I am comforted to know they landed safely in the arms of their Maker.

There have been friends calling when I need them most. The outpouring of support has left me feeling rather foolish for feeling alone. Home and Visiting Teaching has gained greater meaning to me. I do not refer to officially called Teachers, for I have seen little of them, but I refer to the spirit of Teaching, which is charity in its purest form. Many of those with no reason otherwise, have buoyed me up and shaken me out of the hands of the Adversary.

My lifeline has been prayer. I know that no matter what others think of me, my God knows my heart. He knows that I have sought nothing but what is right, though I have made a mess of it. I have always wanted more meaning in my prayers, but now that I must sometimes stand largely alone against the power of the destroyer, I have reached new depths of humility and pleading. Praying for His Spirit to be my constant companion has become the only thing to save me at times.

Prayer, Home and Visiting Teaching, the Holy Spirit, and the scriptures.

I hope I have learned never to use the term "seminary answers" again.

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