25 February 2014

Entertaining Angels

Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ~Hebrews 13:1-2

This made me think of times when looking into the eyes of a panhandler struck my soul deeply. The first time was back when I was still judging the beggar.

I pulled up to the stop at the exit of the Walmart parking lot in my little town, and even though I hadn't planned on looking, I glanced over at the tall, dingy figure standing on the grassy corner. I think he held a sign asking for help. He was faded, weathered, his tan seeming to reach more than skin deep from his dark blonde head to his boots. He wore nondescript clothing: jeans, work boots, and some kind of canvas jacket that looked warm enough for the fall nights. He looked to be late thirties; not young, but not yet aging, if you know what I mean.

He had a backpack with a bedroll, and I remember thinking he looked tough . .  . undefeatable in an old west cowboy way. Someone who had walked many, many miles, who slept on the ground as easily as a bed, who needed very little in the world, and didn't miss the rest. I had planned to drive right past him (judging the beggar; ugh), but when I glanced at him, he was looking right at me. Our eyes met, and I was profoundly struck. All of my description came in one very complete impression when I met those incredibly clear blue eyes. Eyes that looked like they could see for a hundred miles, and into the very center of every soul he saw. (I know that sounds a bit melodramatic. But it's accurate, nonetheless. It took a little melodrama to get through to me back then.) Maybe that's why he seemed faded to me; his eyes pierced the air, so clear, so bright.

All I can say is I trusted him, and wanted to help him, (more than my prejudice would usually have allowed). There was so much character and strength in his gaze. I drove around the corner, back into the lot, and pulled up in front of where he stood. Rolling down the window, I told him I was going to get my son something to eat, and would he like some lunch? "Sure," he answered, clearly glad for the offer. When I asked him what he'd like, he said in that way people do who are happy, yet see something as slightly ridiculous, with a little laugh under his voice: "Anything."

I went to McD's, (another failing I have since abandoned ;o), got my toddler son some fries, and a meal and some $5 certificates for the man. I was back in about 15 minutes, and he was so grateful for the warm white paper bag. I may have shaken his hand, and I know I offered the most sincere God Bless You I'd ever uttered up to that point in my life.

I don't really have words to accurately describe the way I felt when I looked into his eyes--he was incredibly strong-hearted, like I would imagine an actual-real-live superhero would be. No weakness, yet gentle. No dissipation or vice. Long experience and empathy. And there was such a connection, such a chord struck in my soul.

I knew that day I had done something good . . . and it wasn't until I came across something in my reading today that it occurred to me it may have been more significant than I realized.

Father in Heaven, I treasure the times I have been able to bless the life of someone else, in whatever way You have offered me the chance. I just pray that You will continue to allow me opportunities to do so. Show me whom you would have me help; show me whom you would have me serve, bless, pray for. Bless the weary, defend the weak, and comfort those who mourn I pray, in Jesus' holy name, amen.

17 February 2014

Faith = Power to Receive

"And through the whole history of the scheme of life and salvation it is a matter of faith, every man received according to his faith, according as his faith was, so were his blessings and privileges. And nothing was withheld from him when his faith was sufficient to receive it."(1) THIS is the way in which God is no respecter of persons. This is the way in which you, if you will lay down your ignorance, if you will repent, and turn to God, this is the way in which you can find yourself also the inheritor of blessings and privileges which God will not withhold from anyone who understands and gathers to themselves the light and the truth that comes through obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Transcribed excerpt from: Denver Snuffer, "Repentance (Logan)".  (1)Lectures on Faith, Lecture Seven, paragraph 17

So what is faith?

“Okay, you've left home and you've come here. While you're here your home exists only as a matter of faith to you. You believe it exists. You intend to drive back there to it and to your family, and your dog, and to that infernal parrot that now can mimic the low battery signal on the fire alarm. She's there too. And so it's a matter of faith, that despite the fact that I am here and out of her presence, my bird is waiting for me when I get home. You act as if these things exist, that you no longer see. In the development of a child, what you find in really young children is that they don't have the capacity to entertain the fact that it still exists. When it's gone, it's gone forever. And it takes a while before the child has confidence that what is removed from their sight continues to exist outside of the presence of their actual observation. It's one of those childhood development things.”
Excerpt From: Denver Snuffer. “The Lectures on Faith (Idaho Falls), emphasis added."

How many of our actions, each day, truly reflect the fact that God exists? Or, alternately, how many of our choices each day reflect a disbelief of God, of what He has said, what He has offered us, as being simply a nice idea, a fairy tale of grand proportions?

14 February 2014

Parenting: *don't* do it afraid.

I was recently asked how my parenting has changed over the last couple of years. Here are some 'ponderings' on that.

I think the biggest change, the fundamental change that has affecting my parenting the most, is I'm no longer afraid. I'm not afraid of my children not learning to obey, because I know the power of Jesus' love. I'm not afraid of bad things happening to them, because I trust them to God. (I'm still CAREFUL--I just don't freak out (much) anymore. I still have a pretty major thing about my kids in high places or near precipices.) Because I'm so much more accustomed to the fact that God's love for me is wildly generous and totally unconditional, I don't worry about what anyone else thinks. I just treat my children as best I know how--as equal individuals. Very much as I wish to be treated. Honestly. Openly. And able to make my own decisions.

They do stand in a position of lesser authority and responsibility in some ways in my home, but I do my best to treat them as I want to be treated, and to not "baby" or patronize them. I firmly believe they are able to do good things, to step up to the opportunity of making a choice, and making a GREAT one. My 5 1/2 year old has taught me the most about this, because my "old" way of doing things UTTERLY DID NOT WORK with him. Totally. Like, "it no workie" kind of total failure. (In the comic below, my 5yo is Dilbert, on the left. I'm on the right. And yes, I've had my touchy & defensive moments. lol I'm better now, though. Praise God!)

He is such a fun, personality-filled little guy. He LOVES to laugh, and be just really good friends. He loves me incredibly, and I've learned a lot about love from him. About how love doesn't coerce. Or boss others around heavy-handedly. How love appeals to the love in the other person, and lets their conscience work at its full ability, instead of trying to convict of wrongdoing or manipulate.

I have learned to trust the innate goodness in my children. To see them as complete, whole people, who honestly want to do what's right, and look to me for example and support. But most of all: I try to treat my children the way that Jesus treats me. I keep them from physical harm, feed & clothe them, and do those fundamental things. But all of the "technique" and "style" stuff that people usually argue over is really simple: I follow Jesus' lead with me.

The short (and ultimate) answer is get to know Jesus. Let Him be a real, full, complete person to you. Abandon every construct and preconception about Who He is, and how He works, and let Him reveal Himself to you however He sees fit, and teach you using whatever means He chooses. He wants to teach you even more than you want to learn! He wants to lead you on an amazing romance adventure of epic proportions . . . to sweep you along, to take your breath away, to show you His love in a measure and fullness you've never even imagined. Being in love with Jesus is like a crush, the early stages of getting to know someone you're falling hard for. You think about them. A lot. You want to talk to them, listen to them. You want to watch their face, learn their character and personality. You stay up all night talking to them, largely unconcerned for the consequences, because you can't imagine doing anything else.

But don't worry if you don't feel that way right now. It grows as you let Jesus come into your life, and the amazing, beautiful friendship with Him unfolds. The more you get to know Him, the more you can't help longing for His company, for hearing from Him. And the more you know Him, the more you will know how to really and truly love and serve the people in your life.

Know thou the Lord! :o) As parents, so much in blessing and joy lay ahead as we do.

God REALLY IS good. Really.

This is a comment I posted in response to the article Prophecy, Atrocity, and History over at The Mormon Worker.

Interesting post. There's one thread running through it, an assumption that God creates suffering in the world, that doesn't square.

Moroni 7:14 -- "Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God . . ."

What we call God's judgements are simply the way the demands of justice overtake those who refuse to come unto Christ and be saved. Prophecy of destruction isn't God telling us what He's going to do . . . it's Him crying out to us, pleading with us, trying to show us what will happen when we step outside of His protection, His love, His will.

Helaman 4:24-25 -- "And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples—Therefore the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power, for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness; and they saw that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than they, and except they should cleave unto the Lord their God they must unavoidably perish."
Mormon 4:5 -- "But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed."

The destructions of the last days are not the "will of God", in that they are not the desires of the heart of a perfect, loving God in whom there is no evil, no darkness, no shadow of changing.  They "might" be able to be considered His will in that He willingly abides by the law of justice, so He continues in His godhood, and can continue to extend mercy and grace to every one of His children in the hope that we will accept them, and Him. But accepting that definition leads to confusion on the meaning of "will", so it seems counterproductive to adopt it.

Alma 42:25 -- "What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God." 
Alma 42:22 -- "But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God."

I don't think this point changes the overall tenor of your article, (I love the conclusion--bang on!), but it might shift the progression of it a bit, straighten out the wrinkles in trying to reconcile the foreknowledge, warnings, and events of widespread destruction with our God, who is *made*, wholly and completely, of Good.

06 February 2014

Oh, those feelings . . .

After a Relief Society meeting a couple of years ago, a well-intentioned sister in my ward approached me to ask after one of my children, who was having trouble with reading. While she was kind in tone and seemed a little hesitant to bring it up, she and I didn't have a relationship that made the kind of questioning she did comfortable. Despite being neighbors and in the same ward, a deep uneasiness lay between us, born of her fundamentally different view of homeschooling from the one I held and practiced.  The shellac of civilized courtesy only seemed to highlight it. I did my best to answer her questions in a way that would satisfy her, but in such a public place, and feeling myself in not only a very vulnerable position but a highly public one, surrounded as we were by chatting sisters on every side, I frankly felt attacked and betrayed.

I left directly afterward, making it to my car without having to talk to anyone else. On the drive home, I went over the exchange in my mind, and began to cry. The balance of enmity, not in hostile feeling but in opposing views, and my fear that her loyalties lay outside of my family's well-being as determined by Vern and me brought a strong feeling of condemnation.  The sense of being trapped slowly grew, and more tears came. I remember the green of the dash clock shining, the black of wet pavement, and the streetlights reflecting in long streaks towards me as I drove. And the words "She's judging me" ran through my head, over and over, behind the replay of our conversation. I almost heard them, they came so clearly.

I was about halfway home on my ten minute drive. And then, just as clearly, but in a lower, firmer, but utterly calm and gentle tone came the words:

"You are judging her."

Those words stopped me, dead, in my mental tracks. And, as I realized the truth of that thought, all the things I didn't know came to my mind. I had no idea of her true motives. (Fear, yes. Knowledge, no.) I didn't know what she would do, if anything. And as I realized these things (i.e. as the Holy Ghost spoke them to my mind), all the crazy trapped-bird trauma of the previous minutes simply evaporated.

Over the next few days, I meditated on that experience. It taught me a lot of things . . . but the one standing out most clearly to me now is the way the words "She's judging me" kept running through my head. They came in a voice I had known my entire life. A voice I had always thought was the voice of my own thoughts. And yet, I realized they came into my mind exactly the same way heavenly inspiration came: suddenly, in complete sentences, when I was thinking or doing something else.

Now, I like to think I'm no dullard--but I'm no Einstein, either. (Unless you compare our basic math grades. I can spank Albert there any ol' day.) ;o) One thing I do know: unless I'm thinking about something carefully, I tend to get vague feelings, and in order to work through them, I have to speak or write. I've always known that worded promptings come in complete sentences or thoughts, with very definite or clearly defined wording. And I realized, kneeling in my room one day in prayer, that the mental voice wasn't my mental voice, with genesis in my own mind. It was a spiritual voice; after all, what is spirit, if not mind? I had always claimed it as my own, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was the whisperings of the adversary's disciple, who spoke in first person. (Who says dark angels have to speak as themselves, in what sounds like third person to you and me? They'll phrase things so it sounds like our own thoughts, so as to not give themselves away.)

Over the ensuing days, I began to listen more closely to the words that came into my mind, and it became easier and easier to discern between the Holy Ghost and that other voice. (The voice I no longer claimed as my own.) ;o) It took that voice's owner a little while to show any evidence that s/he had caught on, but I rarely heard it after that little while.

What came afterward, though, was an onslaught of feelings. Bucket loads of fear, shame, fatigue, sorrow, condemnation, depression, anxiety, and all of their friends. Pretty much every day. (And I mean excavator bucket loads. You know, the ones that could scoop up several cows at once.) Those presented their own learning experience. During this time, I was learning to let go of the idea that God put us through hard or painful things for our own good. To reject the idea that bad things come from a God in whom is no corruption, no shadow of changing, and no darkness. And as I went through that renewing of my mind, I realized something new and earth-shattering for me:

God didn't want me to be sad.

Or depressed.

Or overwhelmed.

And not only did He NOT want me to feel those things (that had trapped me for such a long, long time), He was not the source of them! I didn't have to learn any lessons for my own good. I didn't have to tough it out, suffering in submission until He decided I'd had enough and could move onto the next trial.

Suddenly, God was Good.

And I realized that if nothing bad comes from Him, then none of these overwhelming, negative, handicapping feelings were part of His will for me.

And, if God didn't want those feelings in my life, then I didn't have to claim them! Or keep them! If God didn't want them in my life, then He wanted them gone. And that meant I only still had them because I held onto them, I owned them, because I thought it was part of the lesson God had for me to learn, because whatever it was, it was something I had to learn for myself. And I was going to be a good disciple and bear the burden He put on my back. But He didn't put it there! He didn't want it there! Hallelujah! :oD

And then, when I was still walking around starry-eyed from that revelation, He showed me another jaw-dropper: the only lesson we need to learn in this life is that we only need to turn to God, and experience Him. (There's another entire post in that statement, about what it means to experience Jesus Christ, and how it changes us. So just hold onto your love of good works--I'm not advocating a do-nothing Savior.) ;o)

God doesn't WANT you to be depressed. Or overwhelmed. Or shamed. Or sad. Or to feel trapped.

He is the God of light, life, peace and joy. Of everlasting love. And, most importantly, of grace. Nothing bad comes from God. Our God is made of Good. As I slowly mulled that all over, God taught me, over days and weeks, what grace truly is.

Christianity at large uses a phrase that we Mormons hardly ever touch: "the cross". The cross symbolizes His sacrifice, and His victory. It has become one of the most beautiful phrases to me, because it truly symbolizes the lowest point of His suffering and humiliation. And that, my friends, that is supernally beautiful because that is the point at which He finished His preparations for our salvation, and declared it done. Finished. It is the symbol of His Victory, the point after which any chance of His failure completely disappeared.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, they were separated from God. Forever. Nothing they could do could overcome the barrier they themselves had created, could make them good enough to get back to God. But Jesus Christ overcame that barrier set up by justice, His victory gave Him the authority to come back and abide with us. He saved us from the fall not just in the hereafter, but the HERE. Telestial earth. Now. We just have to knock it off already with the martyr complexes and blind servitude, and open ourselves to Him and His beautiful, joyous, sweet friendship. His comfort. His succor. Victory gave Him power to forgive sin, to wash us clean. That's all He has ever wanted to do for us. To make us clean, washing us in the blood of His holy sacrifice. To walk with us, work with us, and show us who He needs us to be, so we can come back into His presence, and the presence of the Father.  Grace is what we call it when He does just that, extending His mercy to us, coming to be with us, wherever we are. And when He comes, we can have joy.

He won so we can be joyous! 

(And also: He won, so we can be joyous!) ;o)

Grace means that, no matter where you are, what you've done, or who you think you are, Jesus will come and find you when you call.  You don't have to muddle your way back to Him, you don't have to labor under negative feelings, depression, anxiety, any of it . . . never think that for a second. He will find you! He will hear your humble cry, and come to where you are. The only thing left for you to do is accept Him. That acceptance takes practice, and unlearning a whole slew of things Mormons all have committed to deep memory. It takes braving cognitive dissonance, and really and truly trusting God in His goodness to lead you to safety.

But take it from me: it's the richest, most beautiful return on investment I've ever received.

Signs follow Apostles

     The apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. But no one else dared to join them, even though all the people had high regard for them. Yet more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed. The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But an angel of the Lord came at night, opened the gates of the jail, and brought them out. Then he told them, “Go to the Temple and give the people this message of life!” So at daybreak the apostles entered the Temple, as they were told, and immediately began teaching. When the high priest and his officials arrived, they convened the high council —the full assembly of the elders of Israel. Then they sent for the apostles to be brought from the jail for trial. But when the Temple guards went to the jail, the men were gone. So they returned to the council and reported, “The jail was securely locked, with the guards standing outside, but when we opened the gates, no one was there!” When the captain of the Temple guard and the leading priests heard this, they were perplexed, wondering where it would all end. Then someone arrived with startling news: “The men you put in jail are standing in the Temple, teaching the people!” ~Acts 5:12-25 NLT

05 February 2014

Out of Babylon

And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’ Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her. (Revelation 18:4-8 NKJV)

Babylon has reaped the reward of her avarice. She took unto herself that which The Lord bestows upon them that love Him with all their hearts. She ignored the marriage covenant, committing all manner of sin with other nations. She amassed wealth and substance to the exclusion of others. She broke the bonds of Divine Love that set us free, and stands in her own power, and under heavy condemnation of the Most High. 

I want good things in my life. Comfort. Satisfying food. Health. Safety. Love. Fulfillment. I can rise up to wrest these things from the earth through my own intelligence and strength, or I can arise to them through utter devotion and love for my God. 

Babylon stole all that she gained--wealth, favor, power, the counterfeit of love--and as a result, she reaps the precise and utter opposite as recompense of her selfishness. Those who repent and follow Christ do the exact opposite of Babylon as they give and submit and serve and follow, and as a result the justice and equity of God fills them with all good things as a result. What "all good things" looks like might differ for each one....but God keeps His promises. He is faithful.

Most High Father, I praise You for the Goodness of Your Ways, for the justice and equity I can rest securely in, and I will praise Your Holy Name forever! In Jesus' glorious name, Amen. :-)

The Father Knows When

Matt 24:36: “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.  Only the Father knows."

I wonder if this isn't an intellectual knowing, like the Father knows a number that no one else does, but rather a spiritual knowing . . . a connection to the whole of eternity that, as things ripen to the end of times, the Father will know when it's time because the feeling is right; because He is the only One in this particular salvation saga that has been through this before, not because He has a carefully-made checklist or a reminder on his iphone . . .


Forgiveness and Healing

I've been told I'm a pretty forgiving person. I honestly harbor no desire to hurt anyone, just to love the way God loves me.  I knocked myself out for my entire life, working so dang hard.  I wasn't really sure of the details of my promised reward, except that it was eternal glory in the world to come, and some measure of peace here.  Joy really had very little to do with it. I followed the five-step repentance process carefully and fully. And even then, I operated with so many wounds, so much fear. After decades, God gently brought me to a place where I could realize those hurts were still there . . . treatment I'd received long ago, hounding and bullying, humiliation and ridicule. He had to expose the pain and make utterly unprotected places that were still weak and raw. It was a fairly gradual process for me, one spread over weeks.  At first, I owned that those experiences had injured me, and spent quite a bit of time feeling second-class, honestly asking my Father "Why me? Why? That really hurt, God, and it still does!" I indulged in old-fashioned self-pity, feeling like most of the rest of humanity didn't have to go through my own particular hellish junk, and it wasn't very fair.  (I know, I know. But that's how I felt, so I'm owning that, too.)

My own mortal patching of those wounds was to protect them with fear, layer upon hardened layer, calcified and chafing. It had become a pain I was used to, my spiritual and emotional operations distorted by this well-known background noise in the same way a limp distorts and hinders a free stride. Words can't quite capture the vulnerability, the utter nakedness that uncovering brings. Then, I had the opportunity to offer them to Him.  He showed me someone who was in the same place I was . . . a young woman, utterly vulnerable in the complete exposure of her pain and her past before God.  I knew her heart, knew her pain, and finally saw my own in its fullness.  And I was undone.

It was only then that He clothed me in His healing, His righteousness, through the intercessory prayer of a woman sent to me by God Himself; one who knew what to do, how to pray, for the place where I was.

And I was made whole.

Suckling Babes

9 ¶Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

~Isaiah 28:9 KJV

Reading this post got me thinking . . . and the clear application of Isaiah's analogy of a nursing babe to those who gain spiritual strength from other mortals came into my mind. God provides mother's milk to infants to nourish and strengthen them until they are old enough to eat on their own. Nursing babies are even born with a different throat construction than they will have in just over a year; it's nearly impossible for them to inhale enough milk to be in danger of drowning. During this time of inarticulation, the mother needs to be in tune with her baby (and, in my personal experience, the Spirit of God) so she can meet her baby's needs well, and the baby can thrive. Then, over time, the baby grows and flourishes on mother's milk, until it is developed enough to thrive on solid foods. During that period of growth, the baby's throat changes, and speech slowly becomes possible.

Spiritually, we all go through these same phases and changes. We are taught, and rely on, others stronger than ourselves to give us what we need to grow in the knowledge of God until we can receive that spiritual nourishment directly. It's a process of weaning ourselves from relying on mortals and learning to rely on God. The process varies widely . . . some follow a very natural and seamless path. Some need more time nourished by a spiritual mother; others a relatively short time. But, like with human infants who spend somewhere between 1.4% and 3% of their total lifespan on mother's milk, we're not meant to rely on men for more than a short time, and only as necessary when God leads us through new areas of development where we might once again hold infant status.

My own process was mostly seamless, until in my late teens the enemy got the upper hand through depression and a spirit of confusion that held me down for a couple decades. That was just plain spiritual starvation through famine. Then, I was sent a spiritual mother who nourished me, and whose simple connection to God showed me how others I had relied on for survival during those years of famine had fed me utterly worthless junk food. Worse yet, that junk food had deeply damaged the development of my relationship with God. The weaning process from those sources was abrupt, deeply painful, and I'm still discovering raw voids in my soul for Jesus to fill. But the burden lifted from no longer drinking that Kool-Aid is blessed relief, the resulting clarity stark and brilliant, like the view from a high peak on the clearest, coldest day of winter.

And, as I have once again flourished and have begun to receive my nourishment directly from God, I've found my voice.

03 February 2014

What Pants Cost

One Wednesday night a few months ago, I found myself sitting at a keyboard in the church building, playing through a lovely piece to see if I could pick it up quickly enough to accompany a group of youth in a few days. In just a few bars I knew I wouldn't have time to learn the piece well enough to accompany, so I lost myself in the music and let it carry me along as I softly sang the words and felt the piece out.

It ebbed and swelled, words resonating in my heart. And as my hands moved over the keys, I wandered into days past, when I wasn't a last-minute substitute, but the first called. When I knew I had the respect and trust of my brothers and sisters, both in and out of leadership.

I belonged.

I contributed meaningfully to the workings of my congregation every week, I had purpose, and felt the love of God flow through me and make a difference . . . it was continually renewed joy to me.

And I wept.

I wept to think of the joy I missed in the past year, of the very real probability that I will not be considered as a Seminary Teacher . . . or any kind of teacher, for that matter . . . for years. Possibly ever. As my ward struggles to fill music callings, I've been released from the one I cherished and passed over as they've filled others . . . and still, our ward music program struggles. And our ward struggles with music. I wept for the feeling of isolation and superficiality that has overlaid my interactions with ward members, and for the knowledge that it might be years before any of it shifts.

And my heart broke a little more, thinking back to this day, when everything seemed so simple.

I had learned, a couple of months before, there was no official guideline prohibiting women from wearing slacks to church. (?!?!?!?!?) I was so excited . . . I could be warm!!!! And to not have my active 3-year-old exposing my knees and slip and legs when he climbed into and out of my lap over and over from his play on the floor during Sacrament meeting. And to be warm. And comfortable. And did I mention I'd be warm? And to wear shoes that didn't require me to mince along in the ice and snow, praying I wouldn't fall with my arms loaded with the Sunday bag, purse, and often a toddler. Shoes that wouldn't make me worry that if we had car trouble or slid on the ice I'd be helpless due to lack of decent footgear. And I'd be warm.

That was it. It was all about clothes that made sense for my situation, that met my needs in the winter, and were warm.

I wonder, if I had had the faintest idea of what wearing totally acceptable, modest, conservative, nice black slacks would cost me, if I still would have done it. I'm not really sure.

You see, I wore slacks to church for a couple of weeks in the early Spring, nearing a year ago. My husband and I were called in to talk with the bishop after those two weeks, just before we left for two weeks to visit family out of state. It was a tense 90 minutes, that interview, most of which was spent hashing and rehashing why it was I was wearing pants to church, and whether or not I was staging some kind of private protest. There had been complaints, you see, from one or more mothers of Primary children, whose daughter(s) had asked why they couldn't wear pants to church, after they saw me in Primary. (I was the pianist.) And there had been gossip. (Hence the concern about protest.) Vern and I left that interview exhausted, but feeling that things were back on a relatively even keel. We went on our trip, enjoyed it thoroughly, and our first Sunday back began the Six Sundays from Hell.

That first Sunday I was released from my Primary pianist calling (they had called a replacement while I was away). The only way I can describe the feeling I had after that interview was like being slapped around spiritually. I was so confused. That release was the first I've ever been surprised by. Ever. In 25 years. And the new calling extended was even more confusing--accepting it made me physically ill. Calling back and retracting my acceptance was more confusing yet. But it was the answer I got from heaven, and it brought harmony with the Holy Spirit. So that's what I chose to do.

The second Sunday the Bishop gave a long and notably impassioned Sacrament talk, the self-announced theme of which was "Lift Where You Stand"--which he told the congregation, in plain language, meant accepting the callings extended to you, no matter what.

The third Sunday, within the first ten minutes of Vern's Gospel Doctrine lesson, he was pressured and pushed by a socially powerful, forceful but well-respected member of our ward to teach that following the mortal leaders of our church was the way to salvation. A few people got up and left the room, it was so tense. (Vern simply could not agree--he took his responsibility as a teacher seriously, and felt if he taught anything other than that we should follow Christ and His word that he would be damned. And this person would not let up, even talking to Vern after the class. If you know Vern, you'll know that not only was stressful for him, but he felt deeply betrayed by this person who had been one of his best friends. They are cordial now, but the friendship simply isn't the same as before. I'm not sure it can ever be, with such a fundamental difference in allegiance.)

The fourth week, Vern was able to teach the lesson he had attempted the previous week, "Avoiding Personal Apostasy". And after that week's meetings were over, he was released from his calling as Gospel Doctrine teacher in the most abrupt and awkward way we've ever experienced, in yet another horribly uncomfortable interview. In that same interview I was offered another calling that, again, I had to refuse a few days later after a lot of prayer.

The fifth Sunday in this series, I offered one of the prayers in Sacrament Meeting, and a counselor in the bishopric gave a talk titled "Avoiding Personal Apostasy", which was the utter antithesis of everything Vern had taught two weeks before. It was twenty-plus minutes consisting of "obey your leaders blindly and you'll be saved; disagree or disobey and go to hell, for they are the mouthpieces of God, and will not be allowed to lead us astray".

The final, sixth week, directly after Sacrament Meeting, we were called in and had an incredibly charged "talk" with two of our 13-year-old son's priesthood quorum leaders who insisted, with the combined force of their leadership positions, their bull-like personalities, and the permission of their consciences that we force him to attend every activity and every meeting whether he wanted to or not. (It took us forty minutes, the first twenty of which were sheer torture, emotion running high, to convince them we were serious about wanting our son to learn to make his own choices while he was home. To make his mistakes now, where we could support him through them.)

Then, someone handed me an envelope, my name printed by computer on it,at the beginning of Relief Society third hour, saying they found it on the piano. It held a print out of a General Conference talk I knew well, by Elder Oaks, titled "The Language of Prayer", with pertinent sections highlighted to point out how I needed to correct my prayer language of the week before. I felt a heavy irony, for I had quoted that very talk to encourage others to pray "properly" when I was in high school and in college. I had abandoned that about halfway through my twenties when I realized that praying "right" wasn't anything like as important as simply praying.

(I abandoned the archaic "language of prayer" months before that ill-fated prayer, experimenting to see if it would help my prayers. It did--incredibly. And while I tried to "do it right" in front of the ward, (and I thought I had!), Vern told me later I had flipped back and forth between the King James formal and the modern familiar. I facepalmed, but didn't think much more about it. Lesson learned: either pray according to the Holy Ghost unworried about my language, or concentrate like mad on my language and let the prayer be wooden and useless. I choose the former, thanks.)

If someone handed me something like that now, I would shake my head and toss it in the garbage, with no real harm done. I'm to a point now where misbehavior from my ward no longer surprises me, and I'm moved to pity, instead feeling wounded. But that week, feeling so flayed from the past weeks' experiences at the hands of those who were supposed to love and care for us, it was such a blow. That whoever left it didn't feel comfortable enough to come and simply ask, "What happened? What changed?", but instead hid behind an anonymous letter like we were in junior high. After a few hours' mulling over, the amount of fear behind that choice made me sad. It still does.

That day, we piled the kids in the car right after church and drove out to a favorite state park. We met friends there, had a picnic lunch, and then wandered the trail in the park, soaking in the peace, the wonder, the rich fullness of God's love so evident in creation. It was welcome salve to our souls, and the kids loved it.

And between those six weeks and that night at the keyboard, there had been so many more things . . . small things, but significant. A friend letting slip something that made it plain that she had been asked to not use me as a substitute pianist in Primary. Another friend calling me to give me a heads-up that someone else had been gossiping to her that I was agitating for women to hold the priesthood (scandalous in our church, even if it's not in others), and losing my testimony.  The first part, I laughed at. The second hurt me. Deeply. (I never did get the name of the gossiper from her. At this point, I think that's a good thing. But man, did I ever want to defend my good name then.)

And the list goes on . . . all beginning after I realized there wasn't a rule against me wearing something that kept me warm. It's like those simple slacks shook my leaders and some of my ward members so deeply that suddenly, I was the "item of concern" during leadership meetings. I went from trusted member to unknown quantity (with a strongly inferred negative sign in front). And besides those two very rough interviews in the above list, neither Vern nor I have been approached. We've been treated with a strange mix of "everything's fine" and "ten foot pole necessary" and "missionary project". And it has exposed all of the brokenness and human frailty that our ward labors under, and, to a great extent, the church at large.

But in exchange, we have learned . . . oh, how we've learned . . . that our God is a God of mercy. Of love. Of grace. Of healing. We have learned the gritty, vulnerable truth behind the word "forgiveness". And I've lost one of my testimonies, all right: my faith in men, in institutions, and in the "traditions of my fathers" that control the church on every hand. It's God's way or no way, now. His Word, His example, His Spirit, first, last and above all.

And on I played . . . all of the loss and separation washing over me with the music, through me with each word I softly sang, and finally ebbing out to something less than before as my God, the God of my Salvation, the God of Israel, came to sit and sorrow with me.

I dried my eyes, and returned to the youth practicing with their leaders, loss tucked deep into a corner of my heart, my game face back on . . .

. . . praying they didn't see my eyelashes still wet.

Update: due to private response to this post, I would like to add the following. 

My intent was not to call any single person out...simply to share what my overall experience has been. At a time in my life when I have needed understanding and support, I was met with very little of either. My hope wasn't to make any single person feel uncomfortable. It was to show what things have looked and felt like from where I and my family have walked.

I have worked with so, so many members and leaders in the church; none of whom have been perfect. I don't carry a chip on my shoulder, or have a vendetta to pursue. I have just struggled with the utterly unprecedented mistrust and outsider status our family has experienced over the last two years or so. What we have experienced here has been totally unlike any of the seven units we've attended. I wrote with the hope of helping to increase understanding, to help anyone who reads my experience to see the side of the story that has never been told--that has never been given an audience.

The fact that humans regularly make mistakes doesn't bind us to silence; rather it calls us to work towards greater understanding and love for one another so we can improve and grow beyond those mistakes. The near-total lack of healthy dialogue has encouraged an unhealthy social & spiritual climate.

I did my best to share just my experience, and not speak poorly of anyone else. I dearly hope I succeeded.

02 February 2014

Waiting on the Lord is worth it.

“Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready. 

“Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Luke 12:35-40 NLT)

What master, upon arriving home in the wee hours from an amazingly great time, puts on his work clothes and sits all of the servants down who were waiting for his return so he can then serve them a feast of their own? (Have you ever waited at table? It's hard work, especially for a group of any size.)

I love this about my God: His promises turn every worldly hierarchy, every expectation of the flesh, every pattern of human-directed status on its head. He has promised some crazy stuff: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first; that we can be washed clean in the blood of the lamb; that if we want to rise to meet Him, we must abase ourselves and become the servant of all. He is God of all creation--all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect, holy, just and GOOD. And yet He wants a relationship with us that's mother, father, sister, brother, and best friend rolled into who He is. He wants intimacy. He wants to have a long and rich history of interaction, He wants us to accept Him, to be comfortable with Him (i.e. for us to QUIT beating ourselves up already!), and accept His incredible grace, so we can be comfortable with him, imperfect and unfinished as we are.

That's what grace IS. Jesus' victory won for Him a place at our sides. It meant that we are no longer separated from God by law, but by choice. And it means that we don't have to achieve anything to walk with Him. We just have to open our hearts to Him--really and truly, without reserve and without guile--and suddenly, we'll see how close He is, and how close He has always been. We've just been walking with our eyes & ears closed, utterly oblivious to His presence, His entreaties, His love and His offered help. Blessings rain down around us continually . . . but we're all so busy hiding from God (who sees us anyway!) that we don't see them, can't receive them. We condemn ourselves, and therefore reject blessing.

God wants our hearts. He wants us to love Him, to think of Him, to open our minds and spirits to Him so He can teach us, lead us, renew our minds and show us how to be remade in His pattern, the pattern of God. He wants us to stop condemning ourselves for our mortal state. He absolutely wants us to improve, and work hard . . . but without accepting what He did, and all He is, we're stuck where we are. We damn ourselves with our refusal of His infinite gift.

God, my Father, I want to walk with You. To walk in Your will. To follow Your lead, and to follow ONLY Your lead. Not my will. Not anyone else's. Just yours. I pray for clarity, and grace, to show me what to be, and what to do, so that can be possible. I praise You for all You've done, all You Are, all of Your love and the incredible gift of walking in repentance back to You. Just show me, Father. Show me the steps to take, the things to choose, to make that happen. In Jesus' name, so be it.

What really matters . . .

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42 NLT)

This passage has long confused me. Jesus tells Martha that He's not going to make Mary get up and help with the housework . . . that what Mary is doing is most important. (I wish we knew what He was saying!)

Mary sat with the men, learning from Jesus. Martha stuck to her role as hostess, and saw to the housework. Martha was intent on being a "good" woman in her home for the Lord. On showing Him, with what she did that she was good. Mary was neglecting her role both as woman and kinswoman to the hostess, and sat with the disciples (who may have been mostly men). But she had tasted of the living waters, and thirsted for nothing else. I have a feeling that Jesus would have provided all the food they needed, had Martha chosen to sit at His feet and listen, as well. How often do we do that . . . work hard, distracted from the things God really wants us focused on, in an effort to please Him, when He would provide much of what we worked for if we just walked in His will?

Lord, I know you've told me (repeatedly--thank You for Your patience!) what You want me to do. Please show me how. Open my mind and heart so I can know how far to step, and in which direction, to carry out Your instructions. Increase my faith, so I can recognize Your cues, and follow You more smoothly. Please. So be it, in Jesus' name.

01 February 2014

Keys keys KEYS!

Today, there's a LOT of talk about "keys" in the LDS church. Leaders are constantly and regularly holding forth that they hold keys that give them authority, and that require blind obedience if we want to be saved. But, if asked, all they could say is that keys are authority from God. Yet, the reality of that power is based entirely in man, and in the temporal and temporary organization that we call "the church".

I have an alternate understanding: Keys are only authority in that they are knowledge. 

When we possess knowledge, we have power to act differently.

And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.  ~Doctrine and Covenants 84:19              
Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.  ~Luke 11:52                                                                                                                                  
Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as are the records on the earth in relation to your dead, which are truly made out, so also are the records in heaven. This, therefore, is the sealing and binding power, and, in one sense of the word, the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge. ~Doctrine and Covenants 128:14                                                                      
Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum of the whole subject that is lying before us, consists in obtaining the powers of the Holy Priesthood. For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living. ~Doctrine and Covenants 128:11

What was the whole focus of the events in the Garden? That Adam and Eve would gain knowledge. That they would have a key to unlock (or sufficient knowledge to understand and grow from) the fullness of life experience. That knowledge was the most powerful thing they could possibly possess. Satan had advantage over Eve in the garden (the ability to beguile her) because he had more knowledge than she did.

Joseph Smith also used the word key in terms of knowledge (I can't find a source for this at the moment--anyone remember?). In teaching how to understand revelation, he said the key was to ask yourself what question the revelation is answering. That stuck in my mind because his use of the word "key" was only in reference to knowledge, and not in reference to authority as it is used today.

Joseph also taught that those who have more knowledge have more power:

"A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God." (History of the Church, 5:588.)

Knowledge is power. "Key" is another word to express knowledge that brings power.

And I can say, in my life, knowledge of the Truth--including that Jesus, Himself, IS the Truth--has been the key to unlocking the emotional and spiritual prison I've lived in for decades.