Monday, September 12, 2016

The Non-prodigal One

I have not written in some time, since I have been under considerable stress in my personal life. I don't write much when I'm in the middle of my own crises. I have no energy for it, nor do I feel I have anything to offer. But recently, a thought did occur to me which I felt I ought to share.

One of the many things which has troubled me lately was the cry of the non-prodigal son, the one who said, "these many years do I serve thee...yet thou never gavest me a kid." It is not that I feel I have never transgressed, because I know I have. Nor that I deserve blessings, because I know I don't. But it is hard to see how far off the tracks my life has gone. Tracks that I followed only because the Lord asked it of me, and not because I wanted those tracks at the time.

I am surrounded with people who have the life I was taught to accept (and even desire.) But it is a life I'm forever barred from, all because someone I trusted decided to exploit that trust to its fullest extent. I have fought, not only to become strong, but to keep that strength from making me hard. It is a daily battle, sometimes harder than others, but something I have to fight every day. And sometimes I lose.

I do not understand why I can't seem to catch a break. I just need a year or so of equilibrium, of rest, a time when I know that my kids are safe, that I am safe, and that I can heal a little.

But I was looking up a scriptural reference, and ran into something that I think applies.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

That Which is of Most Value

"Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:30

I have been thinking long and hard about the war of ideologies we are in. On both sides, people are fighting so hard to prove themselves right, especially on the internet. We talk about principles and doctrines, but we rarely talk about individuals.

In his talk, "The Worth of Souls is Great!" Elder Paul H. Dunn makes an important point, in a time before internet really existed. In talking about a schoolhouse, he said:

"...Along with the wonderful new discoveries in education, the emphasis must still be placed upon the individual and upon his needs and relationships with others....I understand from what the Lord has revealed to us through the prophets that people are his greatest concern. We are his children. We are somebody, as Elder Ashton so wonderfully stated this morning. We are his children, and he continually reveals himself through the prophets so that one day we can be like him.

Programs, then, wonderfully inspired programs, like the Sabbath, exist to help people. If we are not careful, it is very easy to put the mechanics of the program ahead of the person."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

So Simple a Call

"Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise."

Luke 10:36-37

If there is anything at the core of the Gospel, it is this commandment: to go and show mercy on our brothers and sisters. The Atonement itself was necessary, not only to redeem us, but to show that redemption comes through submission without compulsion. Our submission to the Savior, yes, but more importantly, it comes because a God with all power submitted Himself into our hands.

The more I learn about the Gospel and about God, the more amazed I am at how all the secrets to life, all the keys of the Gospel and exaltation are found in scripture. It's not in the complicated attempt to figure out which part of geography the Nephites occupied, nor is it expounding difficult-to-understand concepts of how the Atonement works, why only men are ordained to the Priesthood, or determining how, exactly, we should follow the prophets. All of those things are mere window dressing.

True religion, the core of spirituality, is ministry. It is extending ourselves, opening our arms, inviting vulnerability by becoming vulnerable. There is nothing that can compare to knowing that you have served in the name and stead of God.

"The only joy that is comparable with the joy of the one receiving the help is the glow that seems to emanate from the one who has given so unselfishly of his time and strength to quietly help someone in need."

"Go and Do Thou Likewise" Robert L. Simpson

Living in the Mormon Belt means I witness many people hungry for position in the Church, wanting to serve more and more prominent callings, to make a difference in the Church by being included in councils, wanting to be heard by protesting or being the squeaky wheels. But the key to eternal life and all the power the Father has is not found in callings, nor in effecting change.

"There are those who associate high calling in the Church with guaranteed rights to the blessings of heaven, but I wish to declare without reservation that the ultimate judgment for every man will be on the simplest terms, and most certainly on what each has done to bless other people in a quiet, unassuming way."

I think we will be very surprised to find that those closest to God's throne are the ones we have never heard of here in this life. I hope and pray that I may serve God by serving His people. This isn't just part of the Gospel. It is everything.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hands of God

Many years ago, I prayed for charity. I knew what I was doing when I did it, but I did it anyways. Now, years later, I still don't feel like I'm very good at it.

I don't do any great service. I don't even do my visiting teaching as I would like to.

The talk by Rex D. Pinegar is the shortest in the set for this week's session in the General Conference Odyssey. But it is the one that resonated best for me, because I'm coming to feel that it is the single most important aspect of what it means to be a disciple.

My post is going to be similarly short. But I wanted to share what I have been doing to try to cultivate charity.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Divorce, Pornography, Turner, Persky, and Being a Mormon Woman

First a disclaimer. In light of the last post and this one, one might think I'm struggling deeply right now. Strangely, I'm not. I could never write these posts if I were. These are not fresh wounds, they are old scars, which means I can poke at them a little, feel the pain just enough to describe it. Sure, things that happened recently have pulled at the scars, but I'm fine.

I promise, dear friends who read this blog and have reached out to me: I'm more than okay. These battles have been won already.

A friend of mine came to visit from out of state this last weekend. He is not Mormon, and I thought I'd give him the Temple Square tour. We wandered temple grounds for a moment, then went to the Church History Museum. As we walked in, a presentation on "the first Mormon presidential candidate" was announced in two minutes.

We headed over and sat down. Soon after us, came a group of Polynesian men in their early twenties. They had been doing a service project for their ward. A couple who were obviously not LDS came and sat down on the first row. An older male missionary was standing at the front, obviously the one who would give the presentation. He asked us all where we were from, and since the couple was from Florida, he said "you are the interesting ones," and made a few jokes about that.

They got up and left. I'm not sure there was a connection.

But then he started asking questions of the YSA men. They mentioned which ward they were from, and the missionary started joking about attending only when they weren't visiting other wards, amiright? wink, wink. Then he said that he used to visit singles' wards not his own, and then "if there wasn't anyone there he liked," he'd move on to the next one, "know what I mean?" Haha.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rejected and Despised

Another single man I knew and liked just got engaged. He is responsible, attractive in both personality and looks. He takes the Church seriously, and truly cares about God. And he wasn’t interested in me, even a little. He is only the latest in a long line of engaged people I've seen marry over the years since I divorced. At this point, every LDS male I’ve ever dated or been interested in is married or engaged to be married. There are no more for me.

I’m sure you might ask yourself how I can be so sure. Things happen, right? Well, in order for things to happen, you have to be in a place for them to happen. And I don’t have time for that. Because, while I am a single LDS woman whose faith has been tempered in the furnaces of mortality and who wants to be a good wife, I am first and foremost a mother, with everything that symbolizes and everything that means. I don't have time for singles' activities. My calling in the ward I can actually belong to makes it impossible to even go to singles ward.

And I am a mother, which means I have a past. I am not the dewy-eyed girl that good men of the priesthood have been promised as their prize for a well-spent mission. I am not innocent. I have scars, and many of them still hurt. My wounds are too deep. I am too jaded. Too overweight, too tall, too much, or too little. And as long as I do what the Church spent eighteen years teaching me to do, marrying only a return missionary in the temple, I will be alone. I am quickly getting too old to be the stay-at-home mom He commanded me to be with the large family He commanded me to have.

In the words of Taylor Swift, I’m not a princess, and this ain’t a fairytale. Or, as the great wizard Schmendrick said, there are no happy endings, because nothing ends.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Thy Will On Earth"

In my personal life, I have had opportunities to ponder what it means to be a member of this Church. As I watch people with experiences like mine churn against the practices and doctrines of the Church, I wonder if it is only a matter of time before I, too, fall away. Insight into why I can't seem to give up has come slowly and piecemeal. I'm not sure there is one large answer. All I know, is that I cannot turn my back on this Church any more than Joseph Smith could deny that he had seen a vision. It is not a perfect Church, and I do not understand it all. But I know it is Christ's church, and I can't deny it.

Not long before I graduated with a 4-year degree in veterinary medicine, I looked into vet schools. In the two years of my study, I had not truly realized how difficult it was to get into vet school, nor how expensive it was once you got there. I had spent two years carrying nearly the maximum credit load while working the full 20 hours/week I was allowed to work. I pulled a high B average, which is not bad but was less than I was capable of. I had gone year-round, and I was exhausted.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Friend to Hate

There is a meme that gains in popularity daily. It teaches that judgment, pain, and discomfort are bad. Tolerance, permissiveness, and acceptance are good. If we love someone, it says, we should never judge them. We should never hurt them. We should never make them uncomfortable or make them question what makes them happy. Tolerating their differences is required, celebrating them is ideal. Allowing people to do whatever makes them happy is the key to happiness. Accepting who they are will bring the most joy.

And it is all a lie.

"Acts of a friend should result in self-improvement, better attitudes, self-reliance, comfort, consolation, self-respect, and better welfare. Certainly the word friend is misused if it is identified with a person who contributes to our delinquency, misery, and heartaches. "—Marvin J. Ashton

I am in the middle of what could probably be termed the Long Chastening of my life. I have felt pain beyond what I thought I could bear. I feel separated from God, judged for my choices and found wanting. Yet all my pain and sorrow and feeling judged is nothing compared to what the Savior felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He suffered inexplicable pain to atone for the world while his closest friends fell asleep.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Getting Old and Becoming a Somebody

I did not post an Odyssey post last week because, even though I pondered the talks, I could not come up with anything to say. That just about happened this week, too. Writing on demand is not easy for me, nor is fitting into any group of people, which is why I decided to join in this writing effort. I thought, perhaps, it would stretch me outside of my comfort zone (as if I even have one any more) of personal development. And, it is a patently incredible idea which I would like to support.

The only talk from the October 1972 Friday Morning Session that had any real hope of squeezing through my cloudy brain this week was the one by the only name most people probably wouldn't recognize, titled "Becoming a Somebody".

Whether because I'm in that liminal area between young and middle-aged, or because I'm in the liminal area of being a single in a Church that emphasizes families, but with no real hope or intent to build an eternal family any more, or because I'm in the liminal area of being pushed so far past what I am capable of, I don't even know where I'm going any more, I have been fighting the growing feeling that I'm missing something.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Why the CES Letter is Utterly Irrelevant

This morning as we were getting ready for work, I brought up the recent CES Letter excommunication of Jeremy Runnells with my kids. As I was talking to them in under-10-years-old terms about some of the biggest big-ticket items, the reaction of the antiMormon world, and the reaction of the Mormon Apologetics world, my mind started thinking about a friend of mine who is thinking about investigating the Church.

I've not been the best representative of the Church to him. My testimony is more of the "lots of things are really hard about this Church, but God wants me here, it is led by Him, and I believe it," type, less of the "It's true! Everything is awesome!!!" type.

Despite allegations from disaffected and ex-Mormons, I think most of the Church is along those lines. I've not met many people who are of the "believe at all costs" types. Most of us, especially converts, believe because we have received personal confirmation from God. It's people who have been raised in a heavily Mormon world who seem to struggle more with it.

But, as I am a failure in the Gospel on so many levels, I often see myself examining my beliefs and actions from a third-party point of view. Especially as I watch my children begin to form their own testimonies. What, exactly, is the difference between someone who believes and someone who doesn't? It's not knowledge, as most ex-Mormons would have you believe. Nor is it insulation from opposing points of view. Nor is it buying into the lies.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Testimony of Jesus

Not one talk from this session of the April 1972 General Conference impacted me as much as this one by Bruce R. McConkie.

Bruce R. McConkie is an interesting character. The author of the controversial "Mormon Doctrine," I have not often heard his name spoken of with much other than contempt. I've never listened to him speak, nor read much of his writings but excerpts from that book. I knew that he was one of those most outspoken in favor of the doctrine of the curse of Cain and the policy which withheld priesthood blessing from African blacks. I had formed in my mind an image of a rigid, unbending, maybe even stubbornly argumentative man, confident in his own opinion, and determined to convince everyone else around him.

Even knowing that he flipped around completely when the Priesthood was extended to all worthy males, saying that the new light and knowledge that had been received completely erased his previous understanding and opinions, I still assumed that was largely because of his testimony of authority, and that he had to go through extensive self-humbling to accept the point.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Woman-centered Church

The last session I listened to for the General Conference Odyssey was full of talks for men. This is natural, I thought, for a Priesthood session. But then I realized that this week is actually the priesthood session, and last was a general session even though it was geared so heavily towards men.

Both last session and this are incredibly male-centric. All the talks are by men, to men, and for men. Women may be able to extrapolate something useful from them, but it is clear that women were not a primary focus.

It struck me as I was listening how very different our church is now than it was before. Conference now is peppered with feel-good talks. Things to tell us we're doing okay, that "[the Savior] knows when you are lost,"and that "we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed." Even the Priesthood session urges men to "be good followers" so they can lead, and that priesthood comes with a price.

By contrast, the talks of the Priesthood session of the April 1972 General Conference are laden with telling men that they are strong, that they must take responsibility, that they "have a right to preside".

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Despised and Rejected

Like Hugh B. Brown, I'm going to be brief in this post.

The world may not be any worse than it was when this Conference was held. I don't know. But I do know that people don't like religion much these days. It's well enough if you believe in a tame religion, something that means little more than trying to be a good person and never, ever foisting those beliefs onto someone else. But if you truly feel that your religion is something worth admitting, sharing, and even suggesting to another person, you are the vilest of people.

I've seen that opinion of the religious shared in multiple venues by multiple people. I daresay it would be a majority of Americans who feel that way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When You Have No Friend to Phone

How do I describe something as personal and emotional as prayer?

When we are children, or investigators, we are taught the steps of prayer:

  1. Address Heavenly Father.
  2. Thank Him for everything you are grateful.
  3. Ask Him for the things you need.
  4. Close in the name of Jesus Christ.

There is little in this sweet, simple, hesitant formula for prayer that resembles what it has become for me. In the wake of marrying and subsequently escaping an abusive spouse, pregnant and feeling so desperately vulnerable, my prayers have truly become constant. I prayed to get up, I prayed to make breakfast, I prayed to keep my breakfast down, I prayed to give my daughter a stable and loving home, I prayed for her strength, for mine, for help, for someone anyone to be there for me, for me to understand what I was going through, what I did wrong, how to fix it, how to heal, how to cope.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Not Belief: I Know It

I do not remember the first time I knew that God was real. It seems to me that knowing Him is something I've come to over a life of fighting to reach out to Him, an infinite series of small miracles and preponderance of evidence. I know He has spoken to me, typically, through thoughts and feelings, sometimes through the actions of others, sometimes in still and mighty words.

Debate over the authenticity of the Book of Mormon has been rampant since before it was even removed from the stone-covered box in the side of a hill. I've read and heard it all, how it "cannot be true" because of ABC, and how it "cannot be explained as a lie" because of XYZ.

Despite many people saying "no one can know," I assert that their declarations are useless, for under their definition, no one knows anything. I know that it is true because after extensive testing, after seeking knowledge and pitting that knowledge against the hard rock of experience, I have heard the "song of redeeming love," and tasted God's power.

Elder James A. Cullimore spoke about "The Importance of a Personal Testimony" in each of our lives. One quote caught my attention more than any other.

"The Twelve Apostles are special witnesses of the Savior. I don’t know how many of them have actually seen a personage. They don’t talk about it. But they don’t have to, to receive their special witness that can come by the Holy Ghost."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

No Success Can Compensate

"...Whatever you do for the Lord, you do the very best that you know how." —H. Burke Peterson

A very good friend and I discussed recently what it meant that no other success can compensate for failure in the home. Like me, she is a survivor, divorced, and a single mother, experiencing the intensely personal frustration that is the lot of single LDS parents.

She said that she suddenly realized this meant that no matter who you are in the Church: a bishop, stake president, or even one of the Apostles, it means nothing if you abuse or neglect the souls in your family. It doesn't matter what people in the Church think of you, it makes no difference what privileges in the priesthood you are awarded. If you do not repent and make amends for how you have treated spouse or children, your successes are ash to the Lord.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Living by Power—A Woman of God

My last post got twice as many readers as a typical post of mine. It is not hard to imagine why. In that post, I say things that everyone else is saying, about how it is hard to be a woman in the Church. That refrain is echoed across the blogs, though often with a different tone. People read it because it said what they wanted to hear. That isn't true of this post. It is easy to identify problems. And problems get to people’s emotions, especially when they’re struggling with the same problem. But solutions are hard. They are uncomfortable. They often seem to cause problems. No one wants that.

But, while I know that far fewer people will read and like this post, I want to follow up my last with what lies beyond the pain of being a woman in the Church. There is another side of that valley of sorrow. On the other side lies a chance to build a great, tall mountain of discipleship that completely swamps all the things that make membership hard in the Church. It doesn't make them go away, of course. I still mourn sometimes. But it takes that pain and frustration and makes something great of it.

This session of Conference, the last of 1971, was a symphony. The talks all addressed slightly different things, but together they wove a great tapestry of discipleship. I couldn't pick just one without robbing some of the harmony. Obviously, going and reading them yourself is the best thing, but I'm going to play you only a small sample.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Living by Implication—A Woman of God

Believe it or not, I am a faithful Latter-day Saint. Usually, faithful Latter-day Saint women don't talk about what I'm going to talk about, but it's been on my mind a lot lately. I am also a single mother with no real prospects of becoming anything else, which is a confusing thing to be in the Church and in the Gospel.

First, my credentials. I attend the temple more or less monthly. I go to Church every week. Until recently (more on that later,) I encouraged my children to attend their activities. I hold a calling which I fulfill every week. I have had multiple opportunities to be offended and leave the Church, but I haven't. I have struggled with different doctrines of the Church and found my way through them all. I am not a scholar, nor an intellectual, but I have a very active curiosity and I gather knowledge the way a raven gathers interesting objects. I don't shy away from difficult circumstances. I have also come to know my Savior through experiencing my own weaknesses and the weaknesses of others. I have fought hard to learn forgiveness both of myself and others, to learn charity and patience. I have had some success in finding all three, but have a long way to go.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to find out more than I ever knew about the workings of the Church. There is nothing shocking or surprising. I have no horror stories. It's all about what you would expect from an organization filled with very imperfect people who mostly wish to serve God in an organization that is entirely dedicated to doing His work on this earth. It is beautiful in its organic messiness.

But with that opportunity has come many chances to hear how people—particularly men— think about the Church, what they understand of it. I have come to realize how very different my experiences as a woman have been in the Church and as a disciple. I have also come to realize that men, for the most part, truly have no idea how the Gospel as presently taught makes female discipleship so very, very different from male discipleship.

Maybe not all women experience it this way. Many have found ways of coping, or working around the challenges. Most just grow—and flourish—where they are planted. Despite my thinking over these things, I fully intend to do the same thing. But that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. It does. And while I've shelved the frustration of what it means to be a woman in the Church, things that happen with my daughters tend to resurface the old resentment. This is one of the ways I haven't yet learned to forgive. It still hurts too much.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lost People

It surprises me that in my ward, I teach teenagers. It surprised me even more that, after coming into the classroom to hear her daughter teach, one mother told me, "you are just what these girls need."

I do not feel like I'm just what these girls need. I am not a good example of the efficacy of the things I was taught as a teenager. I waited for a temple wedding, only to have it fall down around my ears. I'm a single working mother with little hope and no expectation of marrying again, in small part because I will not marry outside the temple.

Based on my reading of scripture, both public and private, I have thoroughly failed to do what the Lord asked of me. There is little left. But I intend to do my best at what little there is. At least I'll die trying. I'm too German to give up in the face of failure.

There are two things I have been called to do which still may have some application to my life. I have been told to be a mother and to be a teacher. So when I listened to Paul H. Dunn's decades-old talk, (nearly fifty years old!) I knew what I needed to write about.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Lift Where You Stand

It is more than just coincidence that today, after posting yesterday about male motherhood, I was shown this video. This is what the Priesthood does for us. It is less about the authority, less about the ordinances, and more about the responsibility that authority and those ordinances engender in the hearts of those of us who would otherwise find no reason to learn unselfishness. It is not about commanding. It is about bonding.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Becoming a Male Mother

I know that some people get wound up about the comparison of holding the priesthood to motherhood. This post is not going to make those people happy. As I read the talks from the Priesthood session so long ago, an overreaching theme coalesced. It is something I have been pondering for a very long time. It is easy to pick apart how Priesthood and Motherhood are different, but I have spent years pondering why men, and not women, might be given the priesthood at this stage in mortal life.

Ultimately, I believe that there is much more similar between men and women in general than there is between any two given women or any two given men. In other words, I believe there is more diversity within a gender than between genders. I also believe that there isn't much that a determined person is incapable of doing, outside of certain handicaps.

But I also believe that who we are as people is not only based on who we were before we came to this earth, it is also based on who we have become while here. This mortal life is fraught, not only with sin and moral weakness, but also with mortal weakness: the circumstances of our physical bodies, and the culture that has developed from those underlying circumstances. I cannot explain the differences between male and female in a way that is irrefutable or without exception. But I'm not inclined to get lost in exceptions when the pattern has so much to teach me.

My words are mine, and colored liberally with my perspective and experience as a woman. I don't have perspective as a man, nor any of the other myriad options out there.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Motherhood and Mechanical Rabbits

"Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men...."
D&C 121:34-35

"Mother" was once a word that struck me with fear. As a teenager, I knew I had a temper problem. I knew I was not cut out to be a parent. When word came directly from the Lord to me that His calling to me was to be a mother of "many souls", I was rocked to my core. After much inner struggling, I determined that if that was my Lord's wish for me, I would try to be the best mother I could be.

I spent a decade wrestling with inner demons, praying with all I had, to be changed into someone who could handle parenthood. I went through a 180° change. My heart was softened, I mastered my temper, became a wholly different person than I was. The vision I had been given fell apart over certain events of my life. My life now looks like what I first thought I wanted: very different from what I was led to believe it would be, but in the process I have learned a respect for motherhood that some might call "fetishization." (I have also earned a similar respect for fatherhood and priesthood, but that is a discussion for another post.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Love and Lies

"Without [honesty], there can be no salvation."
Honesty, a Principle of Salvation by Mark E. Petersen
"Everyone lies sometimes. I never understood why liars were treated the same in scriptures as murderers and adulterers until I met [one]. Now I understand."

What is the difference between someone who tells a lie and a liar? Neither are good, but until I spent many sleepless nights trying to come to terms with the truth of my marriage, I had no idea there even was a difference.

But since my education in the school of hard knocks, I've learned to see the threads of deception which weave themselves through the fabric of our culture, our lives, and our very identities. We lie to ourselves constantly. Sometimes, we try to avoid hurting someone, and sometimes we are simply trying to cover our own weaknesses.

But there are people who have willingly and earnestly immersed themselves in lies to the point where they are nothing else. All their relationships are false, because they are built on lies. They live in a constant state of brazen insecurity, as they layer one lie upon another until they convince themselves that they are good people. And the hardest part to understand is that these people are everywhere. To an extent, they are even us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Love and Sacrifice

Typically, I write a blog post when I feel moved by the Spirit. Having a deadline and structure to what I post is not my natural practice. But I felt that I should participate in the General Conference Odyssey, and it has been good so far. But this week, I had a hard time connecting to any of the talks from this session. Not that none of them spoke to me, but they spoke to me in ways I'm not entirely comfortable sharing. So I apologize if this post is a bit stilted. I'm sure it won't be the last like that.

While my children have never gotten along perfectly, as they age there seems to be a certain level of viciousness in what they sometimes say to each other. Few things break my heart as much as hearing one of the people I love most in this world being cruel to the other. It doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong as much as the viciousness.

I can't imagine it's much different with the Lord and His children. While it does matter who is right and who is wrong, I believe He must feel about His children's discord the way I feel about the arguments between my children. The talk "By Love, Serve One Another" by S. Dilworth Young was written decades before our current political and ideological battles, but as I read it, I was deeply impacted by how clearly he challenged us members of the Church, particularly those of us who don't have significant or time-hungry callings, to spend greater time serving the poor and those who mourn. "...Those who are not given great responsibility in the organizations have more time to seek out the poor, needy, and helpless. And this help is badly needed. All about us are those in need of encouragement, assistance, and help...."

"...There are many lonely people, people whose loneliness is hidden...." Is this not just as true today as 1971? The demographics of those who don't feel like they belong to the Church may have shifted a bit, but there are hosts of people who do not feel welcome. It is up to us as baptized members to reach out to them, no matter their circumstances. There is nothing that says "mourn with those who mourn for reasons we would mourn," or "comfort only those whom we perceive as victims," or "stand as a witness of God unless it hurts someone's feelings." I'd like to share a parable. Don't read too much into it, I'm just trying to illustrate a point.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sustaining Failure

"But as for me and my house...."

This is a refrain I've read often recently, mostly from people who support the Brethren of the Church to those who are struggling with recent policy changes and the claim that those policy changes are revelation from God.

While I resonate with that sentiment: to "claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of [my] own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege..." I can't help but feel that it is a way to shut down discussion, to draw a line in the sand, and to condemn those who are wrestling with this concept. In that I have no interest.

It is with this in the back of my mind that I read again the words of Brethren from over forty years ago, and prayerfully ponder what I should write. I am very grateful to be invited to participate in the General Conference Odyssey, but I admit to feeling a little out of water. I do not write the great analyses that others write. I don't tend to place things in historical, doctrinal, or philosophical context. My blog is very personal, just as the name suggests. It is about two things which are really one thing: publicly sharing parts of my struggles with God in the hopes that seeing me try to shore up my house against the storms of mortality will encourage others to do the same, to build their house on the rock of my Redeemer. My relationship with God is not all that I am, but it is the part of me that I most want to share. It is the best thing I have to offer the world...or the tiny part of it I can reach. I know that I am nothing, but I will write of the miracles of God in me as best I can.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Unborrowed Light

In some ways, my testimony has come easily. I was taught from childhood to question and to turn to scriptures and the Lord for my answers. Ever since I first read the Joseph Smith story, one thing became very clear to me: that if Joseph could see God and talk with angels, so could I. At that moment, my testimony became something influenced almost entirely by my observations and by my relationship with God.

While I have not seen angels nor spoken with God face-to-face, and despite there being no evidence in scripture (outside of Mary) that a woman could even do such a thing, I still believe that God could speak to me that way, should He choose. And should He not choose to send me angels, I know He has spoken with me—at times quite strongly—in other ways.

But I have had deep discussions with many people for whom it hasn't been so easy. They don't feel what I have felt, or they don't put the same significance on their feelings as I do. For them, testimony is more academic, more reasoned. It is something to be understood more than it is felt. For others, testimony lacks both logic and feeling, and is rather something that they do, living their lives in God's service without the emotional or mental assurances of His literal existence.

With such varied experiences with Diety, the question remains: what is a testimony?

Liminality And Shaded Areas

In Elder William H. Bennett's 1971 Conference talk, "Help Needed in the Shaded Areas," he compares color blindness to a person who is seeking truth, but will not humble himself, exercise faith, or live the gospel. You might expect that a conference held that long ago would be largely irrelevant, but of all the talks that day in Conference, this was one of two which I needed to read.

Because in many ways, I am in my very own "shaded area." The magic numbers hidden in the shaded area are the promised blessings we get for being righteous and doing the right thing.

Religion and faith to me has largely meant fighting to hear and understand the Lord's will for me. It's been a struggle to learn submission, to understand my place in God's plan, if any. I have placed that struggle, that fight to submit, at the center of my life. I'm not any better at it than anyone else, but I thought I knew what it meant to be in tune, to hear the voice of the Lord, and to be His disciple. It was a feeling of warmth for me, a brief sense of belonging...of sudden balance. Like the sparkle of sunlight through storm clouds, or the thrill of sliding on a sled after tugging it up the steep hill.

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