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 StoryI 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
Grace"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: