Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Twelfth Day: My Family

"On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
twelve drummers drumming."

My family is the final thing which has sustained me through my life. I truly have an amazing family. Having grown up in the military, I have no sense of belonging anywhere, no real sense of roots or connection to any one place. But perhaps because of that, my family is my connection, my roots. If it had not been for my Dad and my Mom, I would have never recognized the severity of the life I had been living while married, nor had the strength to get out of it.

For a long while, I called my mom multiple times per day to cry on her shoulder as I weathered the considerable consequences of standing up for myself. My dad was always there to give me perspective when I needed it. My daughters have been a constant source of joy. It is for them that I have been able to do it all. A few good friends who are the family of my heart have been rich support.

But family is even more than that.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Eleventh Day: The Atonement

"On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
eleven pipers piping."

Like bagpipers, the pipers to me represent strength, death and war as well as song and dance. I put the Atonement here because gaining a deeper understanding of the Atonement is probably the single greatest sustenance my soul has craved through the hard times in my life. As much as we celebrate the birth of Christ, it is His Atonement which fulfilled the purpose of that birth.

In seeking to understand the Atonement, I have gained greater and greater knowledge of my God. He is truly a God worth worshipping. Many people imagine themselves an incapable God, or an unjust God, arguing that God could be any two of all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-loving, but not all three. I argue that He is all of them, and I submit the Atonement as my evidence.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Tenth Day: A Living Prophet

"On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
ten lords a-leaping."

There is a unique tension between the principles of agency, personal revelation, and a living prophet. Most people prefer their prophets dead, unable to argue with them and their choices. It is much more comfortable to direct our own spirituality without another source of input.

When we used to teach investigators into our Church, the first thing we taught them was Joseph Smith's vision. The second thing was the pattern by which they could find out for themselves if their Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ did actually visit Joseph in the grove.

That same pattern, the ability for us to ask God directly if something is from Him or not, is not just a test of truth, it is also a way for us to learn to listen to the Lord.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ninth Day: The Temple

"On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
nine ladies dancing."

The temple is a tangle of emotions for a great many people. I didn't used to understand the issues. My first experiences with the temple were beautiful in their simplicity. There were no surprises for me. I had been well prepared by my bishop and my roommate.

When I made the covenants surrounding the endowment, a world of peace and love was opened to me. Finally, I felt I was in a place I belonged.

The covenants of marriage were no less glorious. I made those covenants with determination and love. I dedicated my heart, mind, and soul to my husband. I was not a perfect wife by any means, but I gave everything I had to making the marriage work, to trying to bring happiness to my husband.

Then came the time when I realized that those very intentions conflicted. I could no longer keep all the covenants I made, but I had to choose between dedication and love to my husband and dedication and love to my God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Eighth Day: Power Through Service

"On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
eight maids a-milking."

I know I am in a transition time, a time when the price for what I want is still being paid. As hard as that is sometimes, it is also a beautiful and glorious place to be.

Watching my very young daughters learn to process very advanced life lessons has been humbling. They both have amazing capacity to determine truth and error, to see through illusions and lies, and value the good and true, even when their friends and others try to direct them otherwise. Of all the roles I carry right now, the one that matters more than all others is that of mother.

Oh, I know there are a great many people who see motherhood differently. It is quite popular right now to talk about how hard it is, how thankless. It seems that half the world despises it for those things and the other half wallows in it for them. But I see the difficulty itself as fun, paradigm-shifting and therefore painful, yes, but also wondrous fun.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Seventh Day: Eternal Life

"On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
seven swans a-swimming."

Eternal life is a tricky one. Most of us think of it as something we will get in the future, like an ultimate prize for righteousness. We love to joke about how much we can get away with and still "get into" heaven. Even within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we often talk about "making it" to the Celestial Kingdom.

Eternal life is more than just living forever. It is living as God lives. Eternal life is His life. To live as God lives we must be willing to be what He is. That is not some prize to be won, it is something to become. And face it, we don't know all that much about God.

What we do know is nearly impossible to understand.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Sixth Day: Joseph Smith's Vision

"On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
six geese a-laying."

When young Joseph Smith went into a nearby grove of trees to address his Maker, I doubt he had any intention of founding a Church or becoming a martyr. When I was fourteen, my family returned to America from six years in Europe. Rather than flying directly to our new home in the West, we touched down in an eastern airport. We visited a long series of historical sites, both in American history and in the history of the Church.

Although at the time, I was determined to seem as much interested in my books as I was in the scenery, that journey sparked a slow change in me. I stood in the room where our forefathers argued the points of the Constitution. I wandered through the Smithsonian, where the works of men over ages are gathered.

And I stood in a small, unassuming grove of trees.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Fifth Day: The Book of Mormon

"On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
five golden rings."

I don’t often bear testimony of the Book of Mormon because we members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often bear testimony of little else. But I am so thankful for the Book of Mormon. There is no end to the stories I could tell about how the words and meanings in that book have supported me.

I love the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants. But there is something about the Book of Mormon and the stories of the people that lived then which calls to me. They seem more personal, somehow. Often, the Bible seems to moralize, every story has a purpose. Even the D&C often has a specific point to each revelation. But the Book of Mormon is about life, about the principles of the gospel in the rough and stark lives of the people.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Fourth Day: Charity

"On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
four calling birds."

More than any other gift of Christmas, charity calls to me. After the disastrous events which changed my life, as soon as I was able to think again, I was given a very clear choice. I could not change the things which were happening to me, but I could choose whether or not they would engender charity or bitterness.

To be completely open and honest, sometimes I get one and sometimes the other.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Third Day: Courage

"On the third day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
three French hens."

The third day is courage. When I used to think of courage, I imagined a shining knight on his battle-ready steed, charging in to fight a dragon. Now, I realize that true courage rarely shines or makes loud sounds; it is found in the small things. For some people, courage is smiling at their children as they tell them their cancer gives them only a few more months of life. For some, it is speaking an unpopular truth.

Courage for me has become quite complicated.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Second Day: Repentance

"On the second day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
two turtle doves."

Today, I think of repentance. Repentance is another doctrine which has sustained me. I have spent many hours of prayerful study and thought, searching my personality to find the failings which caused the difficulties I have faced in my life. Most of what I have been led to change involves trusting less, learning to live with an element of caution. But I remain unable to find a definite character flaw that is within my power to change.

It reminds me of something Paul wrote hundreds of years ago.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On the First Day: Faith

"On the first day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
a partridge in a pear tree."

I have decided to take these next twelve days to reflect on those doctrines which have sustained me in my life. On this, the first day of my twelve days of Christmas, I think about how my faith in God has kept me.

I have had many occasions to make difficult decisions, and have been fortunate enough to have been taught to rely on my God. When I was a teenager, trying to decide what path I would take, after much fasting, prayer, and pondering, I realized that it didn't matter what my role was in life, so long as I dedicated it to the Lord as His disciple.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Faith: A Loss or a Gain?

As I sat through the Primary program yesterday, I realized that I really don't belong in Primary. The ways that these children are taught to believe in eternal families, in the power of the scriptures, listening to the prophet, are not so simple for me. I believe in celestial marriage, in the power of listening to scripture. But it's not a fairy tale with a happily ever after.

We teach that families can be together forever but not how personal agency can affect that family. We teach reading scriptures by excising scripture bites that highlight what we want to say, but we don't teach our children how to delve into the scriptures, how to rely on scripture for answers they need. We teach following the prophet, but we forget to teach spiritual discernment of the prophet's words for personal application.

I don't feel like I am qualified to teach the kinds of lessons that are in Primary. I feel like I am lying by teaching such a fluffy, empty version of my testimony. And yet, it is those very things such as the temple, scripture study, and listening to the prophet which have been my lifeline.

One of the first paragraphs of "Lectures on Faith" asks the class to reflect on their lives, and ask themselves the question, "Would you have ever sown if you had not believed that you would reap?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Surviving Domestic Violence

I have had much opportunity over the past six months to face again various emotional wounds that I sustained in my marriage. It seems that every facet of my life is offering the chance to test the limits of my healing. I have been disappointed with my inability to easily shake off the frustration and the fear that these challenges bring. I'm perfectly fine 99% of the time, but then something comes up that triggers all the old muck, and I feel like I've made no progress at all.

But as I have prayed about this and discussed it with two friends patient enough to listen to me, the Lord has shown me that I AM over it. I AM healed. I'm just going through the physical therapy part of my recovery. When something happens to stir up the muck at the bottom of my clear and placid pool, I realize that the muck is less and less each time. It settles more quickly. The twinges of pain from my healing emotional bones are becoming less, and they fade much more swiftly.

That is something to celebrate!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Daughters in my Kingdom III, the War Chapters

When I began to write about this book, it was with the hope and expectation that my predictions about it would be wrong, that my perspective would change from it. I have found it surprisingly difficult to read and to write, and the chapters about the war have been the hardest so far.

About the time I began to read about war in Daughters in my Kingdom, I began a book called Behind the Iron Curtain: Recollections of Latter-Day Saints in East Germany. This is a subject near to my heart because, no matter that I was born in America, and grew up in America, my soul lives in Germany. I don't tell people this when they ask me where I am from, because it requires too much explanation, but Germany is where I consider myself home.

The German people are stoic, with dry senses of humor. They are friendly, but private, only letting select people into their lives. More than anything, they have an inner strength mixed with a willingness to sacrifice that is unparalleled. They are rooted deeply in reality, and have learned to find beauty and humor in the harshness that life can bring. Their stories of the war can't help but betray this tender-hearted, unflinching nature.

It is this same spirit which permeates the accounts of women during the World Wars.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Evidence of Things Not Seen

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
—Hebrews 11:1

Evidence, in a court of law, is information whereby a case is established to be true. Faith, we often think, is believing in something without evidence. So how can faith BE evidence? How can a belief have substance?

Because faith is not just belief.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Profiling a Serial Dater

Happily ever after. Love at first sight. Soul mates. Made for each other. One and only. People like to believe in the power of destined love. And while most of us know at least on some level that real world love isn't quite like that, still we long to find it for ourselves.

We singles tend to go quickly from expressing interest to an exclusive relationship. After relatively little passage of time, we expect to focus completely on each other, demonstrating our "loyalty" and love. As romantic as this sounds on the surface, I believe it is insidiously damaging to us. I strongly believe that couples should not become exclusive until they are a scant step away from becoming engaged to be married.

I am well aware that the majority disagrees with me, so let me explain.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Isn’t It About . . . Gender?

Recently, I was told that I wrongly attributed problems arising from my personality deficiencies to gender issues.

Incredulousness was my first reaction. I have fought bloody verbal battles in the past, defending against feminist accusations towards the Church, and pushing those with good reason to believe they have been discriminated against based on their gender to look beyond gender issues as the source of their problems. But I have a strong tendency to take personal comments from others to heart, so I have been taking a long, hard, and uncomfortable look at myself.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seeking a Savior

The picture at the right is the painting of Jesus that I grew up with. As a rather too introspective and critical child*, I remember looking at it for long periods of time, trying to feel out what in it was truly the Savior, and what was just a painting.

Unlike some, I was never under the illusion that Jesus really looked like that, nor have I ever been that interested in what He did look like. I wanted to know what He felt like. I have never cared whether he was scarred or misshapen, or an attractive, charismatic leader. What matters to me is what He thinks about me. But that's the problem, isn't it? Knowing what He truly thinks.

And it is just as much a problem for me now as ever.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Divine Characteristic: Patience

I have come to painful realization of yet another personal character flaw. You see, over the past several years, I thought I was learning to be more patient. Much to my chagrin, I have lately come to see that what I thought of as patience was only a different coping mechanism, and not development of a divine trait at all.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be God? To have infinite love for an infinite group of people more or less bent on destroying themselves? That sounds nothing like heaven to me. So how does He do it? How does He wait patiently for us to learn the things He already knows, lessons which hurt us needlessly, hurt others immensely, and leave us miserable in a lifetime that was meant for joy?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Daughters in My Kingdom" Post, the Second

Either I am particularly raw right now, or this book just seems to rub a raw spot on my soul. I don't cry often when reading anything, but when I read the story of how one woman's baby died, it hit me hard. I know the fear of losing my children. Particularly poignant was reading how, after she lost her baby, she used her knowledge of the pain to comfort and mourn with others who lost theirs!

This is personal to me. I know that the things I have experienced are a drop in the bucket compared to the suffering one human can endure. And yet, like a sock full of nearly invisible holes, I feel myself unraveling, the holes getting bigger no matter how I try to patch them. Lately has been one of those times, when I yearn for help to hold myself together and do not know where to find it. My tank is empty, and I am running on fumes and faith.

Friday, September 30, 2011

"Daughters in My Kingdom" Post, the First

I am trying very hard to read this book with an open mind. It is difficult, because I had an extremely hard time with the Young Women's program and my antipathy has more or less translated to Relief Society. I begin to read the book with two expected possible paths before me. Either I will love the book and be frustrated that the real world is so far from it and I don't know how to change it, or I will be frustrated that what the book describes is hopelessly fluffy and unrealistic. However, I am reading it with faith that there may be a path I haven't yet seen, and trying to pick out whatever good I can. I am also reading it slowly, to make sure I don't miss anything.

So far, I have two impressions that I would like to share.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Is Real(?)

I put the phone down and lean my head against the steering wheel. Rachel* from DCFS just told me that my five year old needed counseling because of the story she told about seeing an inappropriate movie at her dad’s house. Either way, true or fiction, the “dynamic” between my ex-husband and me was probably causing her stress that she needed to talk out.

Despite my best efforts, I feel the tears in my eyes, the familiar tight burning of fear. I want to tell her that it isn’t a dynamic. His abuse. The ugly, dirty word that has transformed my life from that of a rather selfish, but well-intentioned young adult to a thirty-two-year-old woman who has learned to accept that there will always be fear in her life.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why 9/11 Isn't Such a Big Deal

I'll start with the disclaimers. 9/11 is a big deal. Roughly 3000 people died quickly while people watched on camera in a way that was shocking for most of the world. People's husbands, fathers, etc. died when they had every expectation of returning home that evening. That is heart rending, and I respect that.

But I can't help but notice that everyone else seems a great deal more affected by it than I was. So, I've been trying to analyze why my heart and mind is relatively unscathed by 9/11, outside of the obvious reason that no one I know personally was killed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

I Hate the Term "Chicken Patriarch"

It is demeaning and inaccurate. It mocks men who are trying to be righteous, and women who are trying to understand. It betrays a smug superiority. It belittles righteousness. And it doesn't even describe what it labels very well, making it sound like the decisions are made through fear and not respect.

That is all.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How to Teach Sensitive Topics

In a not-so-recent blog post, Tracy M. discusses the pain she feels when marriage and family is taught in Church. As a single mother myself, I understand the pain, but I strongly disagree with the post.

One of the suggestions which is made is that we as a church should "teach only Christ." What is that supposed to mean, anyways? Teach about Christ and the events His life? Because while useful for grounding in the Gospel, it's not enough to teach about Christ, you have to teach how to become like Christ. That comes with navigating all the prickly non-ideals. And sometimes, discussing the ideals can hurt those of us who find ourselves unable to live up to them. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be taught.

I don't think that minimizing pain should be a significant goal when teaching gospel principles. Taken to the end of that logic, we would never teach any modes of behavior for fear of offending someone. The Gospel is a gospel of change. It is supposed to prick us a bit, goad us into changing our lives to be more like Christ.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Cure for Self-Hatred

I wrote a post more than three years ago which continues to bring a significant number of people to this blog. That post was about self-hatred, a problem that I seem to run into again and again in myself.

Faced again with the same personality problem I so often have, a problem that threatens my friendships, my employment, and my relationship with God, I am trying to learn what I need to change to be liked and accepted for who I am. But I have not met much success. I pray and plead and struggle with the Lord, but the only answers that occur to me are things that I can't change without losing the good parts of myself. I know this, because sacrificing my personality to keep the peace and to be liked and valued is precisely what I did in my marriage that fed the abuse dynamic.

In the end, the only answer I seem to get from the Lord is to have faith.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't Marry Me for Who I Am

I hear so often the advice, "Marry someone who loves and accepts you for who you are."

It sounds like great advice. With abuse in my past I know better than many that you shouldn't change yourself to impress or please another person. But the more I think about the entire meaning of that phrase, the less I like it.

Who am I right now? Well, I have a temper. I'm emotionally awkward. I repeatedly fail at charity. I often don't know the Lord's will, and I often misinterpret it. I could stand to lose some weight, certainly. I'm unhappy with my job, and not particularly pleased with the path my life has taken. I haven't accomplished any of the things I want to accomplish. The old wounds of emotional abuse still pull at times. I have a very hard time knowing when to shut my mouth. I'm impatient. Sometimes I yell. I have a hard time listening.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Mormon" and "Christian" Are Different

Some say that the LDS Church is hypocritical when claiming the "Christian" title despite others' refusal to grant it to us and, at the same time, separating ourselves from other groups (such as the FLDS) who call themselves "Mormon."

Although I don't begrudge the title of "Mormon" to anyone who believes in the Book of Mormon as scripture, I do want to point out that the difference in labeling is not as inconsistent as it seems. It all has to do with connotative meaning. The label "Christian" has been around for about two thousand years. It has weathered many splinter groups of Christians, and has a healthy history of being applicable to many different groups.

"Mormon," on the other hand, is only a few hundred years old, and is generally used to mean one particular group, namely the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I don't mind if anyone who believes in the Book of Mormon calls themselves "Mormon" if they like. But I do have a problem with someone telling me I am a polygamous wife simply because I am a Mormon. Just like I have a problem with people telling me I have to believe in the Nicene creed simply because I call myself a Christian.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Let Her Be Silent

I have a very hard time holding my tongue. By nature, I wear my heart on my sleeve. Because of this, I have been easily used by some people. For a long time, I closed up the walls of my heart completely. When I was about twenty years old, I realized this flaw in myself. It took me many years and much prayer to learn how open up at all. And, when I do, I am not always wise about who I open up to. Staying open is often a struggle.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vitamins Aren't Enough

I sit in sacrament meeting, watching a couple in our ward report on yet another mission and wondering why it irritates me. Shouldn't I be glad they are serving? They are only doing what the Lord has asked (as they point out several times in their talks.)

I don't know exactly why I feel so tense and distressed. They speak of how much the Lord loves the people in wherever-it-was-they-just-got-back-from. Which is true, I know that is true, and the thought brings me joy. So what is my problem?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Young Women's Values—Integrity

Integrity: moral uprightness, the state of being whole and undivided

I have been putting off this particular value because it has always been my favorite, and because until fairly recently, I've been feeling anything but whole and undivided. Or morally upright, to be honest.

I have learned something now about integrity.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rights vs. Responsibilities

This is an amazing post on entitlement that deserves some discussion.

He addresses it in a business sense, but in what sense could it be applied to our relationship with the Lord? With our families?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is Being a Wife, Being a Sex Slave?

Pornification Nation (Warning: Explicit Descriptions)

This article beautifully illustrates the effect that pornography has on women from a non-LDS Christian. By definition, pornography objectifies women and increasingly degrades them.

And that is an effect that happens regardless of whether or not a man is married, or a couple consumes pornography together.

How can we not see this?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 3

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 2

Jesus explains in Matthew 18:15-18 the process of what to do if one of Christ's disciples (ostensibly a member of the Church) should trespass against you. First, you should discuss it with him, then if he does not listen, involve the church, and then if he does not listen to the church he is no longer your brother in the gospel (v. 17). I believe this means that you still treat him with respect, but no longer trust him to behave as a disciple should behave. The Lord also gives the church the power to "bind and loose". In context, this would seem to mean that the church has power over membership covenants.

Peter then asks how often a person should be forgiven. Christ says, essentially, that we are to forgive ALL debts we hold against someone because we are debtors to Him.

Which brings me to a very personal illumination of forgiveness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 2

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 1

As I said in the previous post, the "little child" spoken of in Matthew 18 is not a literal child, but is one who has humbled themselves as a little child in Christ's service. Also, Alma in Mosiah 26 was faced with the same problem that many discuss today: when a dissenter within the Church should be excommunicated. I am also comparing this to what I have learned in the process of divorcing the husband with whom I once covenanted before God.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Futility of Morality

"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me."
—Hymn #166, Abide with Me!

It is discouraging to try again and again to do the right thing, to follow the teachings of Christ and, again and again, look around and see those who act for themselves prospering.

I have been reading a little Nietzsche lately, and while I know he is chock-full of the philosophies of men with almost nothing of God in his words, somehow what he says about the master- vs. slave-morality resonates with what I observe. I feel the pull of just letting go and doing what seems best for me, rather than trying to act as I believe God would wish.

Job, Jeremiah, David and even Joseph Smith witnessed the seeming triumph of wickedness over good. It is hard when you have done everything as thoughtfully and carefully as you can, have turned the other cheek and forgiven, have tried to rise above life's disappointments, but your life is nothing like what is promised. Either there is something wrong with the system, or there is something wrong with you. And deep down, I can't believe there is something wrong with the system.

I want to clarify that I'm not looking at specific lack of blessings. I'm just looking at an overall trend of what I have accomplished or been blessed to receive versus what I have been promised.

But despite repeated failure, there is something deep in me that cannot concede defeat. I know what path I have chosen, and I know there is no option of going back now. Even if I fail to teach my children morality because they are surrounded with immoral success, even if I conduct the rest of my life alone, even if I never succeed in overcoming my personality flaws that keep me from realizing happiness (alone or not), I will trust my Savior.

Oh, Thou who changest not, leave me not comfortless!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Covenant of the Holy Ghost

In Doctrine and Covenants, we are taught that those who are baptized should have manifested by their works that they have received the Spirit of Christ unto a remission of sins. This indicates that it is not impossible to feel and be guided by the Holy Spirit, and even receive a remission of sins before we have been baptized and confirmed.

What is the difference between feeling the Holy Ghost and receiving the Holy Ghost?

Often, when teaching the gospel principle of the Holy Ghost to those new in the Gospel, we explain that it is having the Spirit with you always versus having it with you sometimes. I am sure this is accurate on one level, but as I've listened to many discuss the actions of the Spirit before and after excommunication, I've wondered if there isn't something more that we don't usually understand.

When we refer to "baptism," we really ought to be referring to "baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost," as Elder Packer suggests. Baptism without confirmation (or receiving the Holy Ghost) is only half an ordinance.

When we are baptized, we are dedicating ourselves to a change in behavior. We are being initiated as disciples of Jesus Christ, promising to humble ourselves in His service by repenting of sin, to follow His commandments, to represent Him in His absence, and to witness through our words and deeds that He is the Savior of the world, no matter our circumstances.

In order to help us with this VERY tall order, He promises the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guide us in our actions, teach us all things we should do to be a representative of Christ, and create in us a "remission of sin" or, like cancer, an "abatement or diminution" of sin. This means that even though we are fallen and live in a fallen world, we can be blessed with a lessening of the effects of the Fall.

So the difference between feeling the Holy Spirit, and receiving the Holy Spirit is that when we are baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost, we have dedicated ourselves to Christ and His Church. When we live true to the covenant we made to be His disciple, we are granted the gifts of the Spirit in pursuing that work.

When we are excommunicated, though it is possible to feel the Spirit and even experience the gifts of the Spirit, it is without the framework of covenant. And although a baptized person may not feel the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, it is when they are not being true to the promise they made to make their work His work.

It is completely understandable that a person who is baptized or excommunicated will not feel an appreciable difference in the influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives at the moment of the covenant making or loss. The difference isn't in their access to the Holy Spirit, as God speaks to all of His children who seek Him. The difference is in the life purpose of the individual.

The difference is in us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flirting, Dating, Modesty, and Sexual Assault

A flurry of interesting conversations on modesty have made the rounds recently. There seems to be an attitude that if you dress provocatively, you invite sexual advances. There is a counterargument that the way we teach women to dress modestly FOR THE PURPOSE of dissuading men to approach them inappropriately teaches women that they are on some level objects for the taking.

I'm think there is merit to both sides. Because on the one hand, it is true. If you dress in a way that, compared with the culture around you, is immodest, you will be the focus of more sexual advances. It is just as true that those men who take a woman's appearance as an open invitation are complete and utter cads.

I am a woman who has lived with a kernel of fear most of her life. NOT that I'd be raped (though that is part of it) but that I'd lead a man on, inadvertently "invite" him to take advantage of me in ANY way by the way I dress, talk, or act. No woman is completely safe from men. I believe that. I also believe that not all men are the source of danger, though I don't really know how to tell the difference.

This makes it very hard to flirt, to show I'm interested in a guy.

Which, ironically, makes me a prime target for the sort of man who has always been attracted to me: the sort that is looking for prey, not an equal partner. Because from his perspective, HE is intrigued by the hoops he has to jump through to get me. HE is willing to do whatever it takes to get his mark, even slog through my reticence. (For those of you who have seen Bachelorette, Bentley is a common type of this sort of man.)

I think that the best way to deal with both the realities and the ideal is to stop telling women to dress to help control men's thoughts, and teach them to dress modestly because in the minds of (at best) immature men, they are seen on at least one level as objects and they should want to do everything they can to command respect.

I understand that, our mortal state being what it is, otherwise righteous men might have an errant thought at times because they are attracted to a woman. But this happens regardless of dress, to my understanding. It could be anything, a flash of throat, a toss of hair, even the scent of shampoo.

So rather than telling women to stop doing what triggers those thoughts (because that would be impossible anyways,) start telling men AND women that HAVING those thoughts is natural, not evil. However, natural doesn't mean good. As mature adults, they have the ability to develop complete control over whether or not they'll turn the passing thought into action. They most certainly have the ability to control how they see the woman who excites their hormonal interest.

Just because you men have the thoughts, doesn't mean we women did anything to encourage it. And just because you men are attracted to us, doesn't mean we are attracted to you. And even if we are attracted to you, that doesn't mean you have a right to us and our bodies, EVEN IF WE ARE MARRIED TO YOU.

Monday, June 13, 2011

"I Have to Disagree . . . Just a Little"

I was sitting in Relief Society listening to a lesson about obedience and experiencing one of my days where I raise my hand more than I should. Most of the lesson was focused on how we can receive blessings for being obedient. But the more I thought about that, the more I realized that we keep trying to fit obedience into an equation. Obedience + Sacrifice = Blessings.

And there is some doctrinal basis for that line of thought. In fact, one might argue that the entirety of scripture demonstrates that when we obey, we are blessed.

But I think there is another level to that, beyond being blessed for obedience, that comes as we truly learn to love the Lord. We obey not because we are blessed, but because we love Him and trust Him. The blessings that we get are not part of an equation, but are much more complicated and less guaranteed. There is some evidence of this in scripture, Nephi slaying Laban, Paul preaching the gospel, even Mormon and Moroni guarding the plates. Sure, we can point to how the Lord blessed them, but the bulk of their personal blessings came as a result of being obedient, not as a result of the actions they took by being obedient. There was no expected personal blessing that one could point to and say "because you did this, you got this." In fact, most of the blessings in such cases weren't for them, but for others. They, themselves, had sorrow, death, and loneliness as their reward for obedience.

I think that this is eventually an important concept to understand, and felt moved to share my perspective with the class by referring obliquely to a personal commandment I received which, like Nephi's, went against the general commandments of God, and which had little to no personal benefit. (I had to hasten to add that I hadn't killed anyone!)

I think that suggesting that not all obedience results in a causation blessing made several people uncomfortable, because we would all like to believe that we can somehow control what blessings we receive. One woman raised her hand and said that she disagreed with me "a little," that ALL obedience comes with attached blessings.

She disagreed with me more than a little, but she was not willing to say it. Another woman chimed in and said we were both right, trying her best to make peace. Embarrassed, I thought about trying to clarify my point, but got the feeling that those who needed to hear what I said, if any, had heard it. I felt distinctly that not all in the room would benefit from understanding more what I was saying. So I let it lie there and turned hideously red (curse that pale Scandinavian skin).

The reason I'm sharing this here is because I think that as we gain knowledge by experience, as we gain a greater appreciation for the Savior and His love, as we come to develop a desire to serve those around us, we will find ourselves mimicking His teaching style more and more. Opening our mouths is important, when moved upon by the Spirit, but sometimes shutting our mouths is appropriate, too.

And it is okay to disagree more than just "a little."

The gospel is like a stretchy shirt. It is one size fits all, but that doesn't mean it looks the same on everyone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Can't I Learn Humility Some Other Way?

The other day, I caught myself beginning to obsess about some things that someone said about me. Whenever I am criticized, my habit at first is to panic. Could it be true? Could I really be that incompetent/ petty/ jealous/ angry/ whatever? Is there some major flaw in my character I'm not seeing that I need to fix RIGHT AWAY OR I WON'T BE LOVED?!?

One of my besetting sins is to continually desire perfection. Lest ye think that this is some pseudo-sin, let me assure you it is not. It has affected my relationships with people, myself, and even God. Most of my sorrow in life has been brought about because I was trying so hard to be good and failed. Again and again and again.*

My life-scripture, the one that seems to come up over and over again, is the Lord's words to Moroni. Moroni was looking at the testimony he had written and comparing it to the power the Lord had granted him in speaking. (I wonder what I wouldn't give to actually hear the words of those ancient prophets. If their written words are weak, then imagine the power of God present in their speech!)

Like Moroni, I see unflattering contrast between what I desire and what actually happens. I feel the power of God move in me, but I look at what I do and it is so weak in comparison to what I WANT to be doing. I long for human spiritual connection the way Moroni longed to Spiritually connect, and believe deep down that I have to be perfect to get it.

The Lord says to Moroni, "I give unto men weakness that they may be humble."

I hate weakness. I hate forgiving and then finding myself having to forgive again. I hate feeling like I don't know the rules to the game of life, and if only I knew them I could do them and everyone would love me. I hate feeling occasionally angry, tired, cranky, depressed or jealous when underneath it I have less than no desire to be any of those things, EVER.

And yet, I'm coming to understand that I will never be strong, and that is a good thing. So long as I use my weakness to look at myself and realize that I am not God, that weakness can change me for the better. If I come to accept that weakness, to ignore it, or worse to revel in it, I remain caught in pride and unable to serve the Lord.

So even though I see my weakness and ache to be rid of it, I am trying my best to forgive myself, to not obsess over all the things I do wrong, but to focus on what I'm doing right RIGHT NOW. I don't think it is coincidence that we later hear from Moroni one of the most powerful discourses on charity extant.

And maybe if I'm more humble, I'll be receptive when the Lord uses my weaknesses to further His purposes.

*As a side note, I I read a recent paper that discusses homosexuality and realized how many of those traits I shared. It got me thinking about ways of thinking in general (metathinking!) and how many of the principles described in that therapy could help with other issues.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 1

There has been recent discussion about disciplinary councils which I have been wondering about. In reading my Sunday School lesson, I recently stumbled upon Matthew 18, when the disciples of Jesus asked Him who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Christ uses a child to visually express the type of humility we ironically need to cultivate to be great in His eyes. We often use this chapter to decry child abusers. Yet this chapter really isn't talking about child abuse at all.

When Jesus speaks of the "little child" He is talking about a person who has been converted and humbled themselves.

So when we receive those who have humbled themselves in Christ's service, we receive Him. And if we offend a humble follower of Christ, it is better for us to be dead.

And then comes a powerful insight into the nature of our lives. Christ says, "it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!" It is necessary that, as we cast off pride and humble ourselves in service to Christ, we experience "offenses". But that does not excuse those who commit these offenses.

Mosiah 26 records the short-term aftermath of King Benjamin's powerful testimony and exhortation to his people. After his speech, many of those who were too young to feel the power of the truth of what he said did not believe in Christ, and therefore did not understand the gospel teachings nor align themselves with the Church.

At first they were few, but because of infighting in the Church (kind of like a lot of the infighting that is displayed online) they grew more numerous. And then, once they left the Church, they flattered church members—not to get them to leave the church—but to cause them to sin. These church members sinned to the point that they had to be brought up for "admonishment" by the Church.

Sound familiar?

Ultimately, the one they were brought before was Alma. This is important because Alma not only had been a great sinner in his past and repented, but he seemingly still was very careful not to commit sin again. He did not feel qualified to judge the people of the Church, and the King, Mosiah, refused to judge them according to the laws of the land.

It was tricky for Alma because on the one hand, those who were in the Church and not living by its teachings were damaging themselves and others. But on the other hand, simply wielding the fist of justice could possibly serve to offend more people and cause greater problems.

Matthew 18 and Mosiah 26 both deal with damaging relationships. Jesus in Matthew 18 addresses what to do if, as a humble follower of Christ, your own personal relationships are causing "offenses," or in other words, causing you to sin. Mosiah 26 reveals to us how the Church is to deal with those causing others to sin.

These were enlightening chapters for me because I still sometimes labor under the pain of the decision I made to divorce my ex-husband. When I was married, I thought that if I did all the things they tell us to do, put the spouse first, put the marriage first, I could (singlehandedly!) save my marriage. I was determined that Satan wouldn't have my marriage or my husband.

Oh, how prideful I was!

In my next post, I will discuss what I have learned about the Spirit's personal guidance for me, and the guidance that Jesus gave His disciples and Alma. When should apostasy be forgiven, and when should the one turning away (whether it be from marriage or a religion) be cut off?

And what are the consequences for doing either?

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 2

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm Not Dead Yet

I had the beginning post of a series scheduled when Blogger fritzed. It ate my first post, and while the Blogger gurus have restored the second post four times, they seemingly can't restore my original post.

I've not posted in awhile, trying to get this up and running again, but right now I have too much snafu offline to focus on a post I had already written.

I'll give a teaser, though: it's about Apostasy and Forgiveness. I promise I'll get to it again at some point.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Rather Like Mothers' Day

Even before I was a mother, I liked Mothers' Day. Here is a day set aside specifically to tell my mom I love her, in case I forgot. Even if I didn't have a wonderful mom to thank that day, I get a chance to reflect on all the silent hours of work that good moms put into raising our next wave of citizens. And I even get to wonder about my Heavenly Mother and look forward to learning (or remembering) more about her in this life or next.

Sure, there are cheesy talks and sappy sentiments. Sure, there is a lot of pain wrapped up in being, not being, having, or not having a mom. But for those moms who DO love their kids, who put someone else's welfare above their own, who clean up the messes of the world because somebody's got to:


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Submission and the Power of God

Apame at ZD just posted something about submission that I love. And I can't say that very often about blog posts.

This post puts an exact finger on some things that have been bothering me, that I have felt in my heart without being able to express.

Submission as an expectation cannot by definition be divine submission. It's not just ethical submission, in my mind, but Eternal Submission. There is something of the power of God in this, in how things submit to His will freely, in how His power flows without compulsion. Not only does that happen because God is good, but it is necessary for the power of God to act this way.

I think that is the major part of God's power that Satan does not and can not ever understand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bin Laden Has Died

Since it was announced, I have been thinking about posting my feelings about the death of bin Laden. But someone rather beat me to it.

Strange, perhaps, for a military brat to feel this way. But I don't believe that patriotism is best defined as American supremism. Perhaps because I lived a significant portion of my childhood in Germany, I feel strongly that atrocities are not committed by monsters in human form, but are committed by people much like us for reasons that we just as easily might have.

And we would be better served by looking for our mistakes and mourning the need to commit violence than by rejoicing that we are better than our enemies.

This is not a football game. I am ashamed of my fellow citizens.

"And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery; yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood.

"Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives. And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; and also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them;

"And this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Facing the Mirror Gate

"There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness."

In my last post, Howard asked a good question that I cannot simply answer in a comment. Knowing that I had begun this post years ago and never quite finished it, I decided to bring it out of the "Drafts" cedar chest, shake off the dust, mend a few tears with things I have learned since, and use it as my answer.

I am a fairly introspective soul. Using others as mirrors to see myself, I try to gain a more accurate picture of who I am and who I should be. Unfortunately, this has led to the poor character trait of letting others define me, something I'm having a horrid time shaking.

Of course, we should ideally use God as our mirror. As He said to Moroni, "if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness," and then He will make those weaknesses strong.

In one of my interviews, my first mission president asked me a question that has weighed on my mind ever since. He asked if I knew how God feels about me. The thought terrified me. Still terrifies me. Not long after he asked it, I tried to open myself up to understanding how God sees me. I succeeded somewhat, but I have not yet been able to truly let go and feel it. Perhaps a part of me is like the weak knights, who "ran away screaming" when they saw who they really were. Yet I feel that this is part of my journey to understanding charity.

Now, as a mother, I believe I understand something of God's love for me because of how I feel about my daughters. But there is a part of me that cannot accept that a divine being could feel that way about me. There is a part of me that is convinced I am not worth that, and I am afraid of the expectations that come with it.

Although I know, intellectually, that love towards me could exist without expectations of behavior, I have never experienced it. I have no framework for it. Now that I have children, I have a little framework for it from the other direction, but it is still inconceivable to me that I could be the recipient of such a love, though I know it must be so.

I am coming to believe that this is a large part of why I don't really want to try to find an eternal relationship. I know that until I learn to accept God's love, I cannot accept mortal love. That is probably why I allowed myself to accept a cheap substitute for love in my failed marriage. That is probably why real friendships make me nervous. I'm always anticipating my failure of the hidden expectations on the part of my friends.

I don't think there is really any way to prepare to look into the Mirror Gate. I know I can't do it when my children are around, and I've succeeded in busying my life to the point where I really have very little time alone any more. So in a week or two, instead of planting or weeding, knitting or sewing, dating or playing, I plan to take my journey.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Young Women's Values—Good Works

"Fear not to do good, . . . let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. Behold, I do not condemn you; go your ways and sin no more; . . . Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet. . . ."

As shows in previous posts, charity and good works have been weighing heavily on my mind. Possessed by a fey restlessness, I have been trying to redirect my life back towards the good goals that I once had and lost touch with. But I keep coming up against roadblocks of resentment, both against myself and the world around me.

I really don't know much about the value of Good Works yet. If anything I think I might know less than I did as a Young Woman. It seems to me that so many things that seem to be good turn out to be bad. I don't know how to serve others. I thought maybe I'd learn something by the time I posted this, but I haven't.

What I do know is that fear has something to do with it. As Christ says above, look to Him and move forward in service with courage. Not as simple as it sounds, I have found.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

If You Love Me

"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."
—1 John 4:10-11

I have been giving a lot of thought about love. God loved us, and so sacrifices for us, focuses on us. I tried my best to do the same in my marriage, and still try to do it with my children. But the more I think about God's love and trying to actually create room for that type of love in my heart, I feel more and more inadequate. I come to realize more and more that I really haven't the least idea how to make that love a part of my life.

I worry about love and my capacity to love anyone freely again, let alone a spouse. I did the best I could once, let go of my fears, and it wasn't enough. What if it can never be enough? How can I try to give all I have all over again after so painfully recreating something to have in the first place?

I think about Christ, suffering alone in the Garden of Gethsemane and hanging alone on the cross, feeling abandoned by His Father, and not knowing in that moment if anything He gave would be enough to save anyone. Not even knowing if one person would appreciate what He was doing, giving His all.

I can see that Christ's love is not a love that comes with any expectations, not even the expectation of acknowledgment. Broken and lonely, He "finished [His] preparations unto the children of men."

I am afraid to try to love others, to serve others. If I open myself up enough to be responsive to their needs, the tight bands I have wrapped around my pain will burst all over again. And I am thoroughly sick and tired of vomiting out my emotional ugliness.

But then comes the image of the Savior again, crying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" and I know that somehow, broken and lonely and afraid, I have to find a way.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Starving for Validation

Not long ago, I wrote a post that mentioned that validation is one of the things a recipient of abuse desires most. And, although I am essentially healed from my marriage, the scars still pull sometimes.

For example, as I was sitting in General Conference listening to Elder Holland speak, I was overwhelmed with an intense desire to know the Apostles personally. In analyzing that, I realized that I want to know them in part so they can tell me that I am okay in the sight of God. I shouldn't need them for that, but the desire to be told by His servants that I'm okay was almost overwhelming.

I occasionally read blog posts dealing with various aspects of marriage. Cheating, for example. Because my ex accuses me vociferously of emotionally cheating on him, and there is some evidence that he might have emotionally and possibly physically cheated on me, such a topic draws my attention. Even now, over a year after the divorce, whenever the topic of cheating comes up I can't help but obsess about the accusations all over again. Did I really cheat? If so, how? What was it I did wrong? Should I have refused to speak to any male outside of a public sphere? Should I have not been open with my spouse about male acquaintances? The questions just keep mounting ever higher.

I am reminded of a plea which has always touched my heart, but which resonates even more with me now, "What could I have done more for my vineyard?"

What more could I have done for my marriage?

It's not an obsolete question, because I am afraid of making the same mistakes I made—whatever they were—again. I would do almost anything for someone I could trust, someone who knows the Lord, to give me the answers, to teach me what I did wrong.

In short, to validate me.

But I must come to accept that I will never be validated by anything but the Spirit of God working in my own heart. I can't look to the apostles, or people online, or anyone to validate my decisions.

Just me and God. And I don't know that I can do it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sword of Scholarship, Shield of Truth?

Ephesians 6:13-17
"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints . . . ."

I have been thinking about scholarship and its place in the framework of the Church. Many people try to dichotomize the tension, classifying people as those who ask questions and are familiar with church history, usually with issues about certain points therein; and those who simply soak in what they are told. There is a third option: those who are familiar with history but accept it without reservation.

Scholarship and knowledge seem to fit into the armor of God, in truth and preparation, but they are passive defenses. It is the girdle of truth and the shoes of preparation, not the sword and shield. Interestingly, these most active defenses are Faith and the Spirit. This seems to indicate to me that knowledge and scholarship are not to be used as weapons in arguments via "Bible bashing" encounters.

The interesting thing is that the next part of the scripture, Paul entreats the Ephesians to pray for him, not that he might be delivered, but that he would speak boldly. There is something to learn from that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Being a Lady

Although I used to have no time for such silly nonsense, I have developed an appreciation for courtly graces (as in courteous graciousness).

For example, I was at a singles event not long ago, and there was a point at which tables and chairs had to be folded and put away. Although most of the women moved to the sides and let the men handle the "hard labor," I helped without thinking much of it. This is pretty typical for me, and I have observed a few different reactions by the men.

Some don't notice. Fair enough.

Some rush over and grab the whatever out of my hands and do it themselves. Thoughtful, but certainly not courteous.

But this last time, one man came over and helped me fold up the table. Every time I grabbed a table, he grabbed the other end. I would thank him, and he'd wheel the table away while I started folding up another one. By about the third table, he grinned at me and said, "You really shouldn't be doing this, you know."

I said, "Yes, but I'm not the type to sit on the sidelines and watch other people work." And he just smiled again and nodded agreement. He didn't try to stop me, but he was aware and courteous enough to assist me.

This is the essence of grace.

Now, I could choose to be all offended and see his assistance as a message that I can't take care of myself, or that I'm weak. But even if he had been one of the ruder examples above, it would be demonstrating extreme gracelessness on my part to choose offense, especially when the offender's motivations would be trying to be thoughtful.

I have found myself being less gracious lately, and I want to change it. There is no benefit demonstrating my irritation with certain things, and every benefit in accepting things that are less than ideal with poise.

This goes for things in the Church as well as in my own personal interactions. Sometimes Church leadership deals with things in ways I don't like. But that is no reason to grump around at people and make my opinion known. I really, REALLY want to work on being more gracious.

So that's my spring resolution. Now I just need to figure out how to do it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Young Women's Values—Choice & Accountability

One of the most essential doctrines of the LDS Church is that of agency. We believe that we chose to come here to earth, and that we have full ability to choose whether or not and to what extent we will follow God. I used to think that the choice part of the equation was good, and the accountability not so much.

A prevailing opinion seems to be developing that we, as humans, deserve choice without accountability. I believe that this is one of Satan's most powerful mockeries of the eternal principle. Being able to choose and taking responsibility for the effects of our choices—good and bad—are two sides of the same coin. You can't lose one without losing the other. This has been a painful lesson for me, as I have had to learn to stop taking responsibility for things I did not choose, at the same time that I learned to take responsibility for the things that were my choice. However, as I've come to understand agency better, I have also come to see that taking responsibility is just as liberating as choosing.

It took an indescribable amount of soul-searching to come to the decision to divorce. And a great deal of pain came to me and to others for that decision. Yet, as I exercised my ability to choose, I also came to accept the responsibility for the effects of that choice. If I had not realized that the good effects of my choice far outweighed the bad, it would have been impossible to make. Yet, I sacrificed others' good opinions of me, my good opinion of myself, my personal comfort and feelings of safety, and in some measure, my daughters' comfort and safety, so that I could protect myself and my children in the long run. And, unexpectedly, my good opinion of myself as a daughter of God has returned tenfold. My children are happier and I am far happier than would have been possible had I not trusted the promptings of the Spirit to make that hard choice.

And I know that I am right in the sight of God, and that is priceless.

When we use our own judgment and the input of others to make our own decisions, and when we own the effects (foreseen and unforeseen) of those choices, we become a little more like God.

This also applies to conference talks and other things that are sometimes taught in the Church. LDS doctrine makes it very clear, for example, that divorce is not the ideal. Yet, because of the power and love of God, I was able to hear the Spirit and know when it was time to make the exception in my life. Though it was painful, it was empowering. And it has helped me believe even more strongly in the doctrines of the Church. I believe in eternal marriage and marital fidelity even more than I did before, and now I believe with a full heart and clearer vision of what marriage should be.

As we come to accept the doctrine of agency, and learn to choose wisely and take responsibility for the choices we make, we progress even closer to God and to understanding His doctrines.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Joy of Service

It was interesting to me how many talks in General Conference this year covered service, since I have been focusing on that for awhile now. I realized that a lot of things I do as just part of life, others could think of as service. I think that might be the point.

To reference my previous post, I don't think the best way to give advice to someone who is hurting and lonely is to say "forget yourself and serve." At least, not unless you already have a deep history of love and respect between you and the person you are giving advice to. A much better way would be to help them discover how to serve. Because it is a skill, and a very difficult one to master.

For example, say something like, "this might be a strange question, but can you think of anyone you know who needs help?" And if the answer is no, just say something like, "tell you what, you find someone who needs help, and I'll work on your problem." Of course, it sounds a little cheesy here, without context, but I have had this approach come to mind when discussing with the Lord ways that I might serve and/or address issues in my life. In many ways, it is the same thing, but it expresses a great deal more caring and thought for the person who is hurting.

And, rather than telling a person what to do, it encourages them to change their way of thinking and looking at the world.

To me, that is the key to service. Not just to consciously (and, as I pointed out last time, awkwardly) serve, but to become a person who serves without realizing it. That is when the joy comes and the charity can grow.

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