Friday, November 13, 2015

Waiting Upon the Lord

"Who knows the burdens placed on your heart, whence comes the longing, when shall it part?  No matter the sorrow, He'll not forsake.  God made our hearts, and in His absence, they ache.  Who knows what trials may come your way?  How shall we meet them, what will He say?  When we kneel before Him, will He approve?  God gave us trials that we might choose." ~Rob Gardner

Well, friends, it has been quite some time since I've written on this blog.  In the past months, I've been taking some much needed "inhale" time in my personal life, sometimes feeling more like gasps of disbelief, but inhaling nonetheless.

I'm sure many of you have already read or heard some iteration of the story about the LDS Church's change in policy in the administrative handbook, concerning children of same-sex couples.  If not, here is the news story, along with clarifying statements from Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Before I say anything about any of it, I need to express my deep love and empathy for everyone who is affected by this change.  And I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that in some way, everyone will be affected.  If you are someone in a same-sex relationship or if you are the child of someone in a same-sex relationship, I love you.  If you are a leader in the LDS Church who is now called upon to administer these new policies and minister to those within your sphere of influence, I love you.  If you are a friend or family member of either of the above, I love you.

I am writing this post in an attempt to share some thoughts that have been coming to me in the past week as I've wrestled with these changes, as I'm sure we've all wrestled.  In no way will I attempt to offer a comprehensive view of the issues--that is well beyond my capabilities--nor will I say that anyone's feelings on the issues are wrong.  I hold the very deep belief that we are all one in the Lord, we are all His children, and He loves us all equally and fully.  I echo the words of Nephi, "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." (1 Nephi 11:17)

The main issue that I would like to address is the call which has been issued for certain groups of people to wait for the blessings of baptism.  As Elder Christofferson has said, this is a clarification of policies which have somewhat been in place in individual cases and came as a result of questions raised from those cases.  Although it makes sense to me to have consequences attached to the behavior of adults, initially, I struggled with the effect this policy change had on the children of those adults who are now asked to wait until adulthood for baptism.

My Story

I hope you'll indulge me for a moment as I share with you some of my own personal struggles which fill me with empathy for those who are called to wait upon the timing of the Lord.

As a young child, I lived through some pretty traumatic abuse that happened outside my home, and which my family was unaware of until many years later.  As a result, I live daily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It's a difficult thing to wrap your mind around why horrific things like the suffering of children would be allowed to take place.  I love the scriptures, and I receive great comfort from them.  But one of the scriptures I've always struggled with the most is in Alma chapter 14 when Alma and Amulek are being persecuted and stoned for what they've been preaching, and then they are forced to watch as innocent women and children are burned for their beliefs.  Amulek wants to use his priesthood to intervene, but Alma says no, the Spirit constrained him.  I've always related that scripture to what I went through as a kid, knowing there were people nearby who had an idea of what was going on, but for whatever reason, they were constrained from helping me.

But now that chapter of scripture has been spinning in my head the past few days for other reasons.  How hard it must have been for Alma and Amulek to watch the suffering of innocent people and yet be constrained from helping them because the Lord had a bigger plan and could see the bigger picture.  Or what about Noah and his family?  How they must have suffered and been broken-hearted, hearing the cries of the dying in the flood.  When I was a Gospel Doctrine Sunday School teacher not too long ago, I studied about Noah and the flood, and I came to realize how the Lord viewed the flood--as an act of mercy, rather than an act of wrath.  Because He sees the bigger picture, because He was taking the innocent back unto Himself and removing the sinful from committing further sin, and in cleansing the earth for a re-birth.  All merciful things.

Part two of my story, I've written a little about on this blog before...I am single and have no children.  Yesterday I turned 35.  By the time my mom was 35, she had 4 children.  I've watched as all of my sisters have married and had child after child.  Many times, I've sympathized with my namesake in the Old Testament as she watched her sister have the children she herself longed for.  Often wanting to cry out as Rachel did, "Give me children, or else I die!"  It is true agony to long for something and know that you won't be able to receive it for the foreseeable future.  Attending church in a family ward with women my age and younger getting married and having children has been challenging and painful at times.  We are a church that emphasizes the importance of families, and when you are a family of one, it is easy to feel like you're on the outside looking in on a feast you can never partake of.  The physical ache in my heart has sometimes been more than I thought I could bear.

But in making a comparison to other people who have been asked to wait on a postponement of blessings, you may say that the blessing of children is not a saving ordinance like baptism.  That is true.  Celestial marriage and sealing in the temple is a saving ordinance, however.  So, I can surely sympathize with others waiting for saving ordinances.

And what of LDS people in other countries who don't have a temple nearby and may live their whole lives as temple recommend holders, doing all the right things, and yet still may not be able to partake of the blessings of the temple until after this life?  Not because of any fault of their own, but merely because of a circumstance of birth beyond their control.  In all of these cases, the blessings are not denied, but just postponed to a later time.  Sometimes that time is known, sometimes it is not.  Postponement of blessings is a hard thing to live with.  Believe me, I feel that every day of my life.  The tears and prayers for understanding and strength have flowed often from my heart.

Faith in Waiting and Enduring

"Not now, but in the coming years--it may not be when we demand--we'll read the meaning of our tears, and there sometime we'll understand.  Why what we long for most of all eludes our open, pleading hands, why ever silence meets our call.  Somewhere, sometime we'll understand.  So trust in God through all thy days.  Fear not, for He doth hold thy hand.  Though dark thy way, still sing and praise.  Sometime, sometime, we'll understand." ~Rob Gardner

Something I learned recently is that faith is not only a hope for things which are not seen, but more specifically in my case, a hope for things which are seen in someone else's life, but not mine--but which are true.  It is a hope in the infinite love and fairness of God when things on this side of the veil seem completely unfair.

There are many instances in the scriptures where the Lord's people (or maybe just one or tow individuals) have been asked to wait for promised blessings.  Sometimes for a set period of time, sometimes for an undetermined timeframe.  Sometimes the Lord's reasons are known, but more often than not, the people are left to wonder and wrestle with their faith.  Abraham and Sarah had to wait for the children which had been promised them for decades (as did Elisabeth and Zachariah in the New Testament), without any explanation for the trying period of waiting.  Jacob had to work seven years for his beloved Rachel, and then after being tricked by the father-in-law, yet another seven years.  And let's talk about Rachel's waiting...first the 14 years for her husband, heart-breakingly seeing him marry her sister first, and then further years of waiting for her children.

So, it is not without precedent for the Lord to ask His people to wait for His timing.  Even in more modern church history, the early saints built the Kirtland Temple but did not receive the saving ordinances of the endowment or sealings in the temple until Nauvoo.  Then after leaving Nauvoo, many saints had to wait through years of labor and hardship until the Endowment House or later temples were built in Utah.

What can we take from that?  Does the Lord forget His people?  Does He discriminate against some of His children?  We're told in the scriptures that we have been created in His image and that His work and His glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  Does that only apply to a few choice souls?  Is it possible for a God of infinite love to favor one child above another or one group of children above another?  I would suggest not.

"The Apostle Peter testified that 'the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering' toward us (2 Peter 3:9).  In this age of one-hour dry-cleaning and ne-minute fast-food franchises, it may at times seem to us as tough a loving Heavenly Father has misplaced our precious promises or He has put them on hold or filed them under the wrong name.  Such were the feelings of Rachel.  But with the passage of time, we encounter four of the most beautiful words in holy write: 'And God remembered Rachel' (Genesis 30:22).  And she was blessed with the birth of Joseph and later with the birth of Benjamin." (Spencer J. Condie of the Seventy, October 2007 General Conference)

I absolutely LOVE that scripture, "And God remembered Rachel," possibly because my name is Rachel.  But also because of the deeper meaning implied in the scripture.  The English language is limited in its ability to address the vastness of that statement.  We are told in the scriptures that our God is an unchangeable God; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  We're also told that in an infinite way which our finite minds cannot possibly comprehend, all time is the present before Him.  So when the scripture says, "God remembered Rachel" that's not a statement of a change of status from forgetting to remembering.  He remembered her ALWAYS.  She was never forgotten.  Even in her time of waiting and longing, she was not forgotten.  What a hopeful reassurance of His watchcare over His children.

It would be a depressing thought if I believed I would never receive promised blessings merely because of circumstances beyond my control or if I thought just because I've felt broken and lost in this life then that would be the case for eternity!

No, I don't believe the Lord wants to deny us anything for our benefit.  But the waiting is not a passive state of being.  I'm not just sitting with my nose pressed against the glass, waiting for someone to open the door to my postponed blessings.  For those who are waiting, we are asked to learn, work, and prepare ourselves to receive the blessings, even if we don't know when it will happen.  We're asked to blossom where we're planted and do our best within our set of circumstances, no matter how difficult the way.  Because we're not asked to do it alone.

"You have nothing to fear from the journey, though your body is tired and worn.  For the Lord will send angels to lift up your arms, and He'll carry the burden you've borne.  You have nothing to fear from your suffering, nor the grief you've been called on to bear.  Take His hand and He'll lead you gently along, and you'll find peace and safety there.  There is nothing o fear from the nights that are lonely.  There's nothing to fear from the cold.  And there's nothing to fear from what might be tomorrow.  For Heaven is with you, and angels watch over His fold." ~Rob Gardner


"But with everlasting kindness will I gather thee.  And with mercy will I take thee 'neath my wings.  For the mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed, and the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea.  But know, my child, my kindness shall not depart from thee.  Though thine afflictions seem at times too great to bear, I know thine every thought and every prayer...I am with thee." ~Rob Gardner

And then there is grace.  I've talked a lot about waiting, and the hope and blessings that follow waiting upon the Lord.  But what about in the meantime?  Well, in the meantime and always, we have the Atonement--the greatest expression of God's love for His children.  He arranged in our premortal existence to give us the best possible chance to return to Him.  Through mistakes and trials and afflictions, though the storms may rage around us, He sent us His very own begotten Son to save us, the Creator of the wind and the waves to still the storm.  His Son who had to go through His own agonizing waiting time, holding the pains, sicknesses, afflictions, sins, and all manner of horrors upon His shoulders for our benefit.  How long those hours much have seemed to Him when, as Christ says Himself, "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook..."

This He did for each of us so that "he might know how to succor His people" and to save us all and provide a way for us all to return to the Father, but not just return, to become like Him.  In my estimation, this infinite Atonement covers everything...pain, sorrow, broken hearts, agony..."for being in an agony [himself], He prayed for earnestly."  It covers mistakes, sins, administrative blunders, confusion, and questions.  It covers those times when we feel like we couldn't possibly make it to the telestial kingdom, much less the celestial, those times when we feel like with all our striving, we could never be enough because we're just too broken.  The love and grace of His Atonement cover those who feel like they're on the outside looking in, those who strive yet still fall, those who haven't received or don't understand the laws of His kingdom.  Did He go through all of that just to bring us part way, just to bring us to the brink of exaltation and no further?  No, He wants us ALL there with Him in His kingdom, and has made provisions for that to be possible.

His Atonement covers us all with the beauty and comfort of His grace.  Because He took us all unto Himself and has "graven us on the palms of His hands."  I imagine that with that in mind--us being part of Christ's own body because of His Atonement--He would feel the pain of losing any one of us as surely as we would feel the pain of cutting off a limb.

"If from its nest, a sparrow cannot fall unnoticed by the Shepherd of us all, can it be that He's forsaken you through the hardships you have known?  Do you know that you will never walk alone?" ~Rob Gardner

In the past few years, I've made an exhaustive study of grace, and I still don't fully understand the magnitude of it.  But I read a new article about it recently by therapist Dr. Kelly Flanagan, which I love.  In his article, grace is personified.  And because we know the Savior is the source of grace, I believe we can substitute His name where we read the word grace.  Here's just a piece of the article:

"Grace contains the status quo—all of our struggle and pain and mess—and embraces us and values us anyway. Grace demands that nothing be changed for love and connection to happen, and that kind of love has power.

In the presence of grace we are given permission to be our fullest selves: that complicated amalgam of mess and beauty, shame and glory. In the presence of grace, we can allow the wholeness of our humanity to be seen—we reveal our sputtering rage, anguished tears, petrified fear, crudest and rudest sentiment, most bizarre interest, or deepest embarrassment.

And then we look up.

And grace looks back. It isn’t cringing or horrified or judging or saying in a reasonable tone, 'Well, once we figure that out and change it, then you and I can get along alright.' Instead, grace looks back with a calm admiration—probably even a smile in its eyes—and it says, 'There you are, I’ve been waiting for you and you’re welcome here. All of you. You are beloved.'

This is the brilliance of grace: it welcomes our darkness into the light and does nothing to it, knowing it doesn’t have to, because darkness thrives on hiddenness, and it’s at the mercy of the light. Light drives out darkness, not the other way around.

When we no longer have to push our darkness back down beneath layers of shame, our darkness doesn’t stand a chance.  The healing power of grace does not end with the embrace of our darkness.

When we find pockets of grace in this world—when our true self is finally allowed to the surface—we discover all sorts of beautiful things entwined with our darkness. Like dragging the ocean and coming up with a bunch of seaweed. And some invaluable pearls.

As grace calls our true self forth, we discover magnificent parts of us we didn’t know were there—passions built into us, a purpose sewn into our DNA. Our identity is washed clean and we begin to see ourselves for what we inherently are: creators of beauty, order, and abundance. We no longer dismiss our ability to contribute in loving ways to a crumbling world. We take the grace inside of us, it becomes our guide, and we become it."

Neither Do I Condemn Thee

I didn't realize until the past few years that in the story of the woman in the New Testament found in adultery, Christ does not forgive her.  In other situations of people seeking healing or forgiveness, He always said, "Thy sins are forgiven thee."  But this woman was different.  Instead, He says, "Neither do I condemn thee."  He offered her no forgiveness because she needed no forgiveness.  He knew what her accusers did not...that because of her circumstances, whatever they were, she was living outside the confines and restraints of the law, and therefore outside of the realm where the law could condemn her.  We can get some clarification on this in the Book of Mormon:
2 Nephi 9:25: "Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the Atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him."
Moroni 8:22: "For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all theythat are without the law.  For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing--"
I wonder if these changes in the policy could be seen as grace, as a gathering in to the beautiful mercies of the Atonement rather than a pushing away?  As an acceptance of people where there are without putting covenants and expectations on them to reach up to the bar until they are ready?  Perhaps this will give us an opportunity to first learn to love people exactly as they are without demanding a change, and letting the change happen through the light and love of grace, naturally at the right time?  Removing these children from the possibility of condemnation, they fall under the vast protection of Christ's Atonement.
The gospel according to Rachel is that this situation of removal from condemnation would also apply to those who are excommunicated, removing them from the condemnation and justice of the law, allowing for a rebirth, just as the people of Noah's time in the flood.
I still don't have all the answers, obviously.  I, like Nephi, do not know the meaning of all things, but I know that the Father loveth His children.  Through my life of trials, afflictions, and waiting, the only things I can hold onto are His love, His Atonement, and the belief that because of those infinite things, all things will be worked out on the other side.  In the meantime, I am taking the change in the policy as a challenge to expand my definition of neighbor and to remove terms like "member" and "non-member" from my vocabulary.  I will try harder to show love to everyone and to improve my fellowship efforts.
I will also say, after being an inactive member for periods in my life and seeking hope and joy elsewhere, I have learned the most about the Savior and His Atonement through the Book of Mormon and through my experiences in the church and in His temple.  I have felt His love and grace flow through me in those quiet moments in His holy house.  And I know I can't find those elsewhere in the world, because I have looked and I have tried.
For those within the church who worry that this change might put a stamp of unworthiness on those souls who must wait for their promised blessings of salvation through baptism and become an excuse for others to treat them badly, I would say perhaps it is our responsibility to stay within the church, to help teach love and compassion and acceptance for all of God's children, to be the light and the good we want to see within the church and in the world.
"And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefor will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him." (Isaiah 30:18)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Parable of the Swimmer

Today a friend and I were talking about what it would take to reach a level of serenity in our lives where we could be in the world and connected, but not brought down by all the trials of life or thrown into despair with every new problem we’re faced with.  It has been suggested by some in recent years that the key to happiness and serenity is to look to yourself to meet your own needs, placing a love for self above others.  The “teach others how to treat you” mentality.  While the commandment we’ve received from the Lord is to love others *as* ourselves, not more than and not less than.  As we talked round and round these ideas, I was struck by a vision in my mind of someone floating on water.  We will call this “The Parable of the Swimmer.”

Parable Overview

Imagine yourself in your favorite pool.  The water is warm, but possibly somewhat tumultuous because this is not just your favorite pool.  There are others in the pool with you.  Lying on your back, your body floats easily and comfortably to the surface.  Your body is completely surrounded on all sides by water, you are connected to your environment.  But you face and nose are above the water.  You are relaxed, letting the water gently caress you, but not overwhelm you.  This is the ideal.

Now imagine the panic rising in the pit of your stomach.  The fear of drowning takes over.  Your muscles tense, you retract your arms into your body, and you quickly start to sink.  The sense of falling and sinking triggers the natural instinct to flail your arms about.  You begin to fight to keep your head above water, but by doing so, a great deal of the water around you goes into your nose and mouth, and you begin to feel choked and overwhelmed.  This metaphorical drowning is more prevalent in the lives of those around you than you would think, and maybe more prevalent in your own life than you would like to admit.

So, let’s break it down.  How do we maintain the calm and serenity required to allow us to float in the trials of our lives while not being overcome by them.  How do we float without drowning?


Relax and Let Go

Lying in water, as soon as we tense up and try to grasp onto anything, we will sink.  The key to floating (and therefore to swimming) is to relax and let go.
In the New Testament we are taught this concept:  “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?  And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.  For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:27-32 italics added)

How often do we run here and there trying to control every detail and aspect of our lives?  We have been taught to be self-sufficient, but how much of that self-sufficiency should be a reliance on the Lord?  We cannot will ourselves into the kingdom of God by our actions.  And in more practical terms, it is the Lord who provides our daily sustenance of air, food, clothing, etc.  What more can we add to that?  Now, do we need to work and prepare and place ourselves in the position most conducive to be blessed?  Of course.  But serenity in life can only be reached by letting go.


Let go of the need to control everything.  Let go of the need to understand everything.  Let go of the pride of demanding an explanation from the Lord for everything He sees fit to allow into our lives.  He WILL lift us, buoy us up, and exalt us if we will let the love and grace of His Atonement surround us.  In fact, I would go so far as to say, He already has lifted us through the Atonement which has been wrought in our behalf.  All we have to do is accept it.  Accept His will, and let go.


Look Up

As we float, it is necessary in order to keep our mouth and nose above water to be face up.  Often, swimmers find that if they lean their heads back and look up at the ceiling or the sky, it is easier to float.  In Helaman chapter 8, the story of Moses and the brass serpent has a similar lesson for us.  It was a promise of God to the children of Israel that if they would only look upon the brass serpent, they would be healed of disease and would live.  Verse 15: "And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal."  We often hear the words "look to god and live."  But like the children of Israel, many do not because of the easiness of the way.  It seems too simple, too good to be true.
Elder Carols E. Asay has said: "We, like Israel of old, must rivet our eyes and minds upon...Christ is we hope to gain eternal life...Our looks must not be allowed to wander across the way or to become fixed upon the perishable things of the world.  The eye...must be trained to look upward.  We must look to God and live!" (in Conference Report, Oct. 1978, 81; or Ensign, Nov. 1978, 54)

Back to the pool analogy, if someone trying to float turns or lifts his head trying to look at others around him to compare how they’re doing or is distracted by all of the swimmers around him, or looks down into the tumultuous waters, he will sink. So we in our lives must not compare ourselves to others or allow ourselves to focus too much on the problems around us, being distracted by every new thing. We must stay focused on the Lord and continue to look up.
Jacob 3:1-2: “But behold, I, Jacob, would speak unto you that are pure in heart. Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction.  O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever.”

D&C 88:67-68: “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.  Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.”

That is not to say that trials will not be hard or painful.  But as Elder Carlos Arnado has said: “…there are tragedies that are so difficult we cannot understand them. We do not have an answer in this life for every adversity. When trials come, it is time to turn our souls to God, who is the author of life and the only source of comfort. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” (John 14:27.)



Heart Up, Arms Out

You’re in the pool, you’re floating in the most vulnerable position possible—heart up, arms out.  Remember at the beginning of this post I talked about how it’s often said among self-help gurus and psychologists that we have to take care of our own needs.  Imagine trying to wrap your arms around yourself while you’re floating.  It wouldn’t work.  You would sink.  Therefore, you must extend your arms.
What does this mean in your everyday life?  Be vulnerable.  Be open, honest, heart and arms ready to give and receive.  Curling yourself in a ball, throwing up a myriad of boundaries and walls will not protect you from drowning in the sea of life.  You must be able to love others, serve others, and allow them to do the same for you.

Elder Robert D. Hales has said about trials: “When Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail, he cried to the Lord for comfort, and the Lord gave it to him. He said that 'if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.' (D&C 122:7.)  Such trials give us the development of spirituality that we probably never would get if we didn’t have the experience where the very jaws of hell gape open their mouth wide after us. Not only must we survive, but we must develop the ability to have a concern for others while we are suffering. It is a key element in our spiritual growth. As we lose our lives in the service of our fellowmen, we find ourselves.”
So remember: heart up, arms out.

Use Your Core Strength

There is a strength in the center of your body that allows you to adjust the extremities as necessary to compensate for changes in the environment around you as you float on the water.  You can lift your core muscles or use them to gently kick your legs, allowing your body to stay afloat and adapt to change.  In order to do this, you must strengthen your core muscles.
What are your core beliefs that strengthen your testimony?  How can you develop a more complete testimony that will allow you to adapt to whatever life may throw your way?
May I suggest a place to start be with the Articles of Faith?  These are the over-arching, general beliefs of the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Added to these could be a testimony of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and the temple. 
When life throws things at us unexpectedly, or the waves splash in our faces and remind us that the waters of our lives will not always be smooth, the tools we have to combat those things are at the core of our beliefs.  Faith in the Eternal Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.  Strength from baptismal and temple covenants, the teachings and revelations of the Lord through scriptures and a living prophet. 

We have not been left floating alone.  The Lord will lift us.  If we stay focused on Him, He will not allow us to sink.  The only serenity to be found is in His loving arms.

The Lord bids us as He bid Peter to come onto the water with Him in the midst of the storm (not after the storm is over).  Peter had faith and was able to stay above the water until he began to fear.  Only then did he sink.  Even still, he called to the Lord, who reached out His hand to save Him.  In the words of Isaiah, “Fear … not; … I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; … I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Poem, A Poem, Who's Got A Poem?

Well it feels like years since I've written a poem, but I found one in me today.  I got so excited about it that I decided to post it.  So, here you go.  And no, it's not about religion. :)

When Your Noon is Dark

When your noon is too dark to walk
and your midnight too bright to snore,
I will see you and hear you screaming crazy talk
and feel the sand between your toes on the shore.

The wind hasn’t carried all the seeds that will ever grow.
Your heart hasn’t buried all the love you will ever know.

Of course the days will pass,
the tears will burn,
your troubles last
longer than a night of tears can
cover you.

But in the morning when you gasp
for breath and see the light
of your children’s eyes parting the clouds,
I will still be there, putting away the umbrella,
changing my rain boots for skipping shoes—
of course they make skipping shoes—

And we’ll wear them in the dark noon,
in the bright midnight,
and taking a giant step for womankind
on the shadow of the moon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Kindness and Forgiveness: The Greatest Gifts

I've been thinking about this blog post for a long time, wondering how to put my feelings into words or how to write about something I know I still have a great deal to learn about.  It's December.  Another Christmas season is upon us.  Many people have been gearing up and gathering presents for months in preparation for Christmas day.  (I must confess, I am not one of those forward-thinking people.)  The stores start earlier and earlier with advertising, deals, and other incentives to get us to but the perfect gifts for our loved ones.  But can the greatest gifts be purchased?

In my mind, the best gift is one which your loved one could not or would not get for himself/herself.  A person can buy the perfect shirt, or the perfect CD for herself.  While it's true that we can/should be kind to ourselves, it's a completely different thing than receiving a kindness from another person.  What it the only gifts we were allowed to give this Christmas were the actual things we have in our hearts, rather than all of the outward show?  What would be there under the tree?

I would venture to say the greatest gift is to be kind to a person who has not been kind to you, to continue to forgive someone who has completely spurned your attempts at forgiveness and reconciliation.  To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, to love someone you like is easy.  There is no virtue in that.  But to love someone it is difficult to love, therein lies the virtue.

But don't let us be kind out of obligation or duty.  That is not true kindness and will feel false to the one receiving it, like a knock off of the original.  Ephesians 4:32 tells us, "And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you."  But the kindness and forgiveness must be genuine and borne of the love of God within us.  It can't just be outward show.

What if the other person won't forgive or accept forgiveness?

It is extremely difficult and painful to continue to be kind and forgiving to someone who perpetually feeds a grudge or widens a rift between you with more offenses.  Although we've been counseled to turn the other cheek, I am not suggesting that you repeatedly throw your face in front of someone's fist.  Nor am I suggesting that you try to force a friendship on someone who may not want it for whatever reason.  I am simply asking the question, what would it look like if you met someone's cruelty or meanness with kindness?

Joseph B. Whirthlin has said, "kind ness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known.  Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends.  It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes."

What if you could gain or regain a friendship just by enduring in kindness?

"We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed.  AS in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over." ~James Boswell

So, while we're rushing around this Christmas season, getting the decorations, food, and last minute gifts, don't forget to bring the gifts you have within you to those you love: your kindest thought, the benefit of the doubt, understanding, patience, and forgiveness.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

One Ugly Shade of Grey

(Warning, this post will talk about sexual topics in a very open manner.)

Ok, my friends, I usually try to avoid discussions like what I'm about to open up because they just usually become uncomfortable for everyone involved.  But as we watch the media sinking to lower and lower depths of depravity and trying to pander their filth as "mainstream" and "normal," I cannot remain silent any longer.

As you may or may not have heard, the 50 Shades of Grey book series has been turned into a movie and will be released on Valentine's Day 2015.  What is 50 Shades of Grey, you may ask.  My answer: it's pornography, plain and simple.  Others may try to hide behind cleaner sounding words like erotica or even romantic fiction.  But it's all the same thing, really.  And this series, both in book and movie form, is worse than most.


It might help the layman, who is not versed in the world of sexual perversion, to have a few definitions before I begin. 

1) Pornography:  Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. (from the Oxford Dictionary)

2) BDSM: a variety of erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role-playing, restraint, and other interpersonal dynamics.  Specifically, the BD refers to bondage, discipline, and dominance.  And the SM refers to submission and sadomasochism.

Synopsis and Writing "Credit"

The 50 Shades Series was written by E.L. James, a British "soccer mom" who is trying to bring the dark world of BDSM into the mainstream.  It began as poorly written "fan fiction" based on the Twilight books.  Ridiculous stories like that don't usually make it offline in hard copy form.  No publishers usually take it seriously.  But for some reason, this one did.  Basic premise of the book: A young college student, Ana, meets an older business man, Christian.  He lures her into his BDSM fantasy and turns her into his own personal sex slave.  There is no romance.  Not even good writing.  The only thing that's making this book fly off the shelves is the old adage, which sadly remains true today: sex sells.  There is nothing loving in the way Christian talks to Ana.  Many have said the reason for his behavior is later shown to be that he was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  While that may be the case, herein lies my problem: rarely before have writers or the media tried to romanticize abusive behavior (and what could be called pedophilia) as something to be desired by the victim.  There is nothing romantic or loving about abuse, sadism, and physical "discipline."

So What Exactly is This?

Some will argue pedantically that 50 Shades is not pornography.  However, I submit my answer to that in the form of a quote from the film's producer, Dana Brunetti.  In discussing the film's possible X-rated material, he said he would like to see two versions of the film released: one R-rated, and one NC-17.  "This is just my opinion, and this doesn't mean this is going to happen, but I always thought it would be really cool if we released the R version and then we had an NC-17 version that we released a few weeks later."  He further added, "What we're kind of hearing from the fans is they want it dirty, they want it as close as possible [to the book].  We want to keep it elevated, but also give the fans what they want."

Side note: may I address the fact that this sick person just called an R rating elevated?  In what fruit bat world would an R rating, which allows HUNDREDS of F bombs and full nudity on the screen, possibly be seen as elevated?  In what sense?  In the sense that you're just standing in the poo rather than shoving it down your throat?  Don't make me take my earrings off.

But moving on, based on the definition of pornography given earlier, and the fact that the producer wants the movie of 50 Shades to be as dirty as the book, I'd say that's exactly what this film and the books are.  So now, not only have we allowed this filth onto book shelves accessible to all ages, but we have allowed it to become "mainstream," grossing the author hundreds of millions of dollars.  And now we're about to let it into our movie theaters.

Gone are the days when those who wished to view pornography had to hide in dark corners and keep their addiction somewhat under wraps and under control.  We're now trotting it right out into the open.  Let's scream our perversions loud and proud, and ask for "more dirt" no less!

What's the Harm?

In college, I had a professor who had done his dissertation on Victorian prostitutes in England.  At that time, prostitution in England was legal.  I suppose voyeurism was as well because there were store windows where the "merchandise" could be perused before purchase.  Harsh?  Absolutely.  But true.

As a society, we are sailing perilously close to that line.  In Victorian England, a mother would most likely have known which streets to avoid traversing in order to protect the innocence of her children.  But in today's society, we are not even allowed that level of protection.  Because the sad truth is that the trailer for this horror premiered on the Today Show at 8 am to appeal to the mommy types, as this has jokingly been dubbed "mommy porn."  8 am, a time when many children could have been watching TV over breakfast with their moms and could very easily have been exposed.  The trailer itself is pornographic in nature.  How could it not be when that's all the movie is about?  And now it's being served up as proper breakfast fare.  This is beyond ridiculous.

Some may say, what's the harm?  You don't have to read the books or watch the movie.  Why get all up in arms over it?  First, let's address the pornographic nature of it.  What's the harm in pornography in general?  It objectifies women and men.  My friends, you and I are daughters and sons of the living God.  We have greatness running through our spirits and our very cells.  Pornography invites and entices people to forget their birthright to greatness and get down on the level of the animals, following only the basest desires, forgetting the spirits housed in these temples.  It shuts out any and all possibility of light and allows the darkness to come rushing into the void.  It kills good and virtuous feelings, making healthy relationships nearly impossible.  And I propose it is a form of adultery.  Christ tells us in the New Testament that to lust after a woman is the same as committing adultery with her.  What is pornography if it is not a lust generator?

It is addictive in nature and changes the very structure of the brain of one who is constantly exposed to it, making him/her want more and more, and becoming less and less satisfied, unable to stop the impulse to do it just one more time.  As such a powerful addiction, it destroys families, hurting all in the sphere of the one caught in the trap.  Here is a simple to read article about the effects of pornography.

I've heard some women say 50 Shades is not pornography because it's a book and not pictures or video.  Well, that's just not true based on the Oxford definition of pornography.  Besides the fact that women are much more affected by the power of suggestion and words than pictures.  And now it is a film, so now what?

The Nastiest Shade of Grey

Now, all of the above would be true of these books/film if they were just portraying graphic sex scenes.  But that is not all.  This is not consensual sex between two equal parties.  From the beginning of the story, the BDSM nature of the relationship has Christian grooming Ana to be his slave, accountable to him for everything from what she eats to what she says, even going so far as making her sign a contract giving him full control of her.  He is an older man, a powerful business owner.  She is a young 21 year old, with no experience in the world.  She is portrayed as even an extremely juvenile 21 year old, with no cell phone, no ability to do anything on her own, never been kissed.  She is the essence of naiveté.  Christian takes her innocence and throws it right in the dirt.  There are vivid scenes of the violence he perpetrates against her.  I will say here and now that whether or not she has a physical reaction, violence is still violence, and still severely damaging to the one who is the recipient of the violence.

The author of this book is sadly trying to say that Ana's "inner goddess" thrills and responds to this type of behavior from Christian.  I'll call bull on that.  Anyone who knows even the tiniest bit about the nature of the spirit and the exalted realms from which we came could never say that an inner goddess of any sort would want to be humiliated and forced into submission the way Ana is.  Those two ideas of goddess and submission to anyone other than the Lord God simply do not go together.

What to Do About It?

Well, the books and now the movie are out there (though the movie is not yet released).  So, now what?  What can we do about it?  It's not enough to stay away from the movie or the books.  It's past time when we can hide our heads in the sand and pretend that the sewers are not overflowing into the streets and our homes with all manner of filth.

It's time for us to make our voices heard as people of faith, as children of God, that we will not accept these products to be shoved in our faces.  I, for one, will be boycotting the production company Focus Features.  I also call on all who will to picket the theaters that show this film.  Please don't say to yourself that someone else will do it.  When society is pouring dirt into your home, will you wait for someone else to come clean it up?

To those who say that this type of "entertainment" harms no one, I ask you to think about your daughter entering into a relationship like the one portrayed in 50 Shades.  Imagine that she comes home beaten and bruised, her head bowed.  Or worse yet, imagine that she doesn't come home at all because the boy who tried to tie her up tied the knots too tight and she's now been strangled.  Do I overstate the case?  I don't think so.  Whether or not you read the books or see the movie, this type of "sexual revolution," as it's being called, will have a profound effect on all of us if we don't stand up for the right, and follow our true "inner gods and goddesses" as sons and daughters of God.

Thirteenth Article of Faith: "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul--We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.  If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

Monday, June 23, 2014

"Leave to thy God to order and provide..."

"In a profound way the solution to our community problems, which we call social conflict, lies not in better understanding and better programs of repair and improvement, but in the depth and sublimity of our thoughts and affections, in deeper living and holier values." ~ Thomas Moore

As I sit down to write this post, I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed about the enormity of the issues I am about to address.  I’ve been mulling over the news articles, press releases, scriptures, my own thoughts, and so many things in the past week.   Then today the news came out that Kate Kelly, the founder of the Ordain Women movement, has been excommunicated from the LDS church.   I feel that we, as a society and as a church, are on a dangerous precipice, but with the opportunity to find a better way.

On the one hand, in the United States, we are firm believers in the democratic process.  We are proud of founding fathers who fought so hard to bring to pass religious freedom, the right to worship as our own consciences dictate.  We even believe that they were divinely led to set up the constitution the way it is, paving the way for new churches to develop unhindered, including the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days.

On the other hand, it should be stated that the LDS church is not a democratic entity.  It is, in fact, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It is His church, not ours, and so must function under His direction and wisdom, not ours.  Therefore, protests, demonstrations, candle-light vigils, etc. have no place in this religious setting.  And any attempt to force policy or doctrinal changes by these means must be categorized as apostasy, as apostasy is defined as a rebellion, turning away, or falling away from the church, coming out in open opposition to the church, and trying to convince others of the doctrines you’re purporting.

Questions vs. Demands

In a recent press release from the LDS church’s public relations department, we were assured yet again that we are encouraged to have “civil online dialogue…and discuss ideas with one another.  Our whole Church was founded on the basis of sincere questions asked by a 14-year-old boy. Having questions and seeking answers is normal. Within those earnest questions may lie the seeds of faith.”  I believe this whole-heartedly.  I have always had the space within my religion to have questions, even doubts, and to find the answers.  Loving leaders have encouraged me and pointed me in the direction of the scriptures and prayer to find the ultimate answers in my relationship with the Lord.  I recognize that this is one experience among many, and that others have not always been this fortunate.  The truth is that while the gospel is perfect, people are not.  I have heard (and believe) other people’s stories of having their questions dismissed or even silenced by a well-meaning, though mistaken, leader.  From the anecdotal evidence I have found, these situations are few and far between, but do occur.

To that point, I will offer this solace from President Joseph Fielding Smith: “I think there is one thing which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.  An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be…”

Friends, we must go back to the source.  Seek and ponder the scriptures in prayer, read past and current conference talks, surround ourselves with the truths we are taught and not let one or two bad experiences color our views of the gospel.

In reference to the “questions” being posed by Kate Kelly and the Ordain Women movement, they are not questions, but demands.  “Non-negotiable” demands as they have themselves stated.  This is the behavior that becomes apostasy and leads people away from the truth into confusing and thorny paths.  May we question?  Yes.  May we demand?  No.

Society vs. God's Kingdom

What we must remember as we hear more and more stories of people voicing their dissatisfaction with the church or its leaders, is that the Lord’s Church is not society, nor a corporation, or any other entity that can be governed by common consent or democratic vote.  It is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
In this crazy society we live in, we are dictated to by those who preach sameness disguised as equality.  We have to know that the two things are not the same.  A society that shouts a plethora of contradictions, including: "Embrace my differences, but I demand to be like everyone else."  They use the democratic country we live in, founded on the religious freedom of differences to try to force a change to complete sameness across the board in every sphere, not realizing that "All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light."  (D&C 93:30-31)
Think on those verses for a few moments.  “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it.”  The Doctrine and Covenants also tell us just a few verses before that spirit is made up of light and truth.  Therefore our spirits are independent in the sphere in which God has placed them.  What is right and good and required of men, may not be so for women and vice versa.  We have separate, but equally important roles.  Also, what may be relevant and good in a discussion of societal organizations, may not be so within a religious context. 
Ask yourself why the adversary works so hard to damage society’s view of women and their roles in the home.  Could it not be that women have a tremendously important job in the raising of the children and shaping generations?
And why would we as women dare say that our roles and the beautiful gifts we’ve been given are not enough?  By so doing, we are putting ourselves down, in essence acting as our own oppressors.  In the letter which Kate Kelly wrote to her disciplinary council, she cited one of her reasons for dissatisfaction in the church as being that “adult men are treated as the standard mold in the church and everyone else is an ‘other.’”  I disagree wholeheartedly on this point.  To say so is to negate the very real and powerful women I’ve had to look up to in the church my whole life from Lucy Mack and Emma Smith to Eliza R. Snow, Sherri Dew, Bonnie D. Parkin, and so many others.  So many strong pioneer women who helped lead the church members to the amazing group we are today.  I will not allow their efforts to be defamed or pushed aside.  Their contributions are real.  Their lives are real.
The problem I see with Kate Kelly’s stance in this matter is that she’s trying to view spiritual matters through the limited eyes of this world and the constructs of our less than perfect society.  She’s lost sight of the big picture and been blinded by the here and now.  She's let society tell her that she is "less than," and brought that mentality into a world where God tells us our potential is unlimited, that we can indeed be goddesses, queens, and priestesses.  We cannot place the limitless capacity of God’s kingdom into the imperfect mold of society.

If we were looking at God’s kingdom like a corporation, think of this…God is the owner.  The prophet and the other leaders are middle management.  They take their orders directly from Him.  So, why do some feel the need to have a “middle management” level human being give them value in the world’s eyes when the Lord (whom we have the ability to have a personal relationship with) has told us how much He values each and every one of us.  What more could we want?  Why not try to make the most out of the role He’s assigned to you rather than trying to usurp someone else’s role?   Our value lies not in the callings we hold.  It lies in who we are inside.

Inside or Outside

These people rallying for change within the church are also missing another important point.  It’s not about the outside scaffolding, it’s about what’s inside.  When we come upon something we feel is a problem, or something which we don’t understand, the first thing we must do is turn inward.  Listen in the quiet confines of our hearts for the Lord to speak to us on the matter.  We’re invited to approach Him in faith and humility.  “Knock and it shall be opened.”   The Ordain Women movement cries, “Change the church, fit it to my wants and desires.  Reconcile the church to me.”  When the scriptures teach us the opposite, that we are to “reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.” (2 Nephi 10:24)  We must go to Him and ask Him to help us to understand and to change our hearts to be reconciled to Him, not the other way around.

We are asked to be obedient with exactness, nothing wavering, not veering by even a few degrees from the path.  That requires faith and trust in the Lord.  One to trust the commandments He gives us, two to trust that the Atonement will make up for our weaknesses.  We can go to the Lord with our broken bodies, broken spirits, broken hearts, broken lives, and even broken faith and He will make them all whole again.  If we are fitting ourselves for the Celestial Kingdom, we must follow the Lord’s way with exactness, to make ourselves one with Him, like calibrating a machine so that all the parts fit together.  He will help us.  We don’t have to do it alone.

"Stubbornness is Idolatry"


Recently in a Sunday School lesson I was teaching, we learned about Saul and how fell away from the Lord one degree at a time.  After he’d given up his last chance to obey, the prophet Samuel tells him that “stubbornness is idolatry.” (1 Sam. 15:23)  I thought and pondered on that for a time.  How could stubbornness be idolatry?  But in talking and reasoning things out with a friend, we realized, It is idolatry because to put our wisdom, desires, will or anything before the Lord is to commit idolatry.  Questioning the Lord’s judgment is idolatry because we presume to know better than the Creator of the universe who sees and knows all things.  Who am I to dictate to the God of the universe?  How could I possibly say that I know better than Him with my limited vision?  How could any of us presume to tell Him how His kingdom should be run with our petty non-negotiable demands about anything?

Beyond that, think of things from the Lord’s perspective for a moment.  He’s given us commandments to live by.  Ask yourself how well we’ve done on that.  We as a human race have always struggled with obedience.  In this regard, we are lower than the dust, as one brother in Sunday School stated this past week.  Even the dust obeys the Lord's commands, but we struggle to do the same.  We stand in all our prideful assurance that we are right and just in our outrage over perceived slights, yet will not humble ourselves to ask for Him to change our hearts and our perspective, or to ask Him to "guide our futures as He has the past."  We cannot even consistently keep the basic ten commandments.  What makes us think we are even remotely ready for a higher law? 

"Believe in God"

I would urge all of us to follow the admonition in Mosiah 4:9: “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”  We cannot possibly comprehend all that God can comprehend.  And we’re told often that His ways are not our ways.   Only He can see the end from the beginning.  We don’t even have to know the whys and wherefores of an issue.  Faith requires that we step out a little into the darkness and wait for His greater light and knowledge, usually not knowing the why or the how of what we’re asked to do.   
Those whose souls are harrowed up by this and other issues, I would like to leave you with the words of one of my favorite hymns, which gained deeper meaning for me today.  Follow the guidance in these verses.  Seek the Lord to still your soul, and know that He is God.

Be Still, My Soul

1. Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;
 With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
 Leave to thy God to order and provide;
 In ev'ry change he faithful will remain.
 Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav'nly Friend
 Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2. Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake
 To guide the future as he has the past.
 Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
 All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
 Be still, my soul: The waves and winds still know
 His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.