Finding My Voice in a Faith Crisis

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Last night I couldn’t sleep and I started reading old blog posts.  I realized that it has been a couple of months since I posted.  I’ve written a lot in my journals, but haven’t felt able to post anything.  Honestly, the faith crisis I’ve been going through over the last six months has been brutal on my self-esteem.  I didn’t realize how much of my faith in myself came from my church membership.  The card I was carrying in my wallet that told me I was a good member of my church meant more to me than I realized until that was gone.  Now I have to stand before my Savior without any of that and somehow believe that he still loves me; that I still have work to do for him just not in the way I thought.  

So I’ve been tepidly attending a protestant church of some kind called Lakeside Church of Christ.  It’s the church that runs the preschool that my sons attended.  One of the weeks I attended I looked around at the congregation.  The gathered people looked so different from the ward I used to attend.  They weren’t just unfamiliar, they were different.  There is a look to Mormons.  That look isn’t at Lakeside.  I felt the spirit whisper to me, “They are my people too.”  I knew that it was true.  I haven’t wanted to look outside of my tribe to find his people.  I was too busy serving my kids and my ward and looking within the church to take the time to see that there are his people everywhere.  My neighbors.  My son’s classmates.  The server at the restaurant.  They are looking for his love.  They are known by him, but not by me.  My eyes have been opened.

It isn’t that I want to start preaching the Book of Mormon to them.  I have no desire to make anyone into a Mormon.  I want to listen to their stories.  I want to learn from them.  I want to see them the way my Savior sees them.  My Lord knows there is a time to listen and a time to talk; a time for questions and a time for answers.  I feel so humbled.  I came to Texas thinking I knew so much.  Now I feel full of questions.  

As for my blog, I’ve been afraid.  I’m worried I’m going to say something that will hurt someone or influence someone to leave the church or to judge me for leaving.  I’ve been distracted by the need to please everyone who reads my words.  Me posting again is me accepting that you are responsible for what you do with my words.  This is me remembering that God knows you.  He will guide you on your path just as he is guiding me.  This is me finding my faith again.

The growth I have experienced in the past six months has astounded me.  The pain of loss has been torturous.  It has been not just in my mind but in my body.  In my neck and left shoulder; in my hips and legs, in my head most of all.  The struggle to manage the responsibilities of my home and family while enduring constant pain has been intense.  I had an injection in my neck, but it didn’t help.  Thankfully, my orthopedic pain specialist prescribed me some medication that is helping me.  I also started going to the gym again which has reduced my anxiety and helped my self esteem.  Better times are ahead.  

I started a new book called The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a pastor in the Lutheran church and an early vocal opponent of Adolf Hitler in Germany.  He was arrested by the Gestapo and killed by order of Himmler only days before the concentration camp he was imprisoned in was freed.  This book is part of his journey of discipleship in which he became conscious of his own heroic path to become a martyr for Christ; a testimony to what Christ would have done in Nazi Germany during the rise of Hitler.  He was a brave and honorable German whose faith and sacrifice inspires me.  During a dark time when Germany lost it’s soul to darkness, there were people like Bonhoeffer that stood firmly for humanity and truth.  Germany and the German people are no longer in the grips of a madman thirsting for the blood of the Jewish people.  They have taken their place in the world as an example of humanitarian aid during the refugee crisis.  Somehow, I feel certain that were it not for those brave few who kept their integrity, Germany would not be the place it is today.  I know the days ahead will be dark.  As my nation becomes more radicalized and demagogues lie and inspire violence, who knows what the future will bring?

One thing that is certain to me, we are headed down a dark path and there doesn’t appear to be any course correction coming any time soon.  Anyone who refuses to be drawn into a tribe right now is going to be left exposed to the persecution of those who belong.  I am ready to take on that role.  The testimony of my Savior, his courage, his teachings, his love will be my only creed.  I will have faith that it will be enough.  His tribe is the only tribe I want to belong to. 

There isn’t only darkness.  There is also an increasing awareness of human suffering.  The subject of mental health is on the cover of magazines as I stand in the checkout at the grocery store, it is the topic of discussions at church, it is on everyone’s mind in a way I have never seen before.  I feel like standing up and saying, “I was talking about mental health BEFORE it was cool!!”  I spent a few hours watching the documentary The Me You Can’t See that was put together by Harry the Duke of Sussex and Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime TV.  It was excellent.  I wish so many people didn’t have to suffer and die before we got to this place, but I’m glad we are here.  If the pandemic leads us to better understand our own minds and what we need to be happy, that can only lead to a more mentally healthy society.  

I hope all of you are surviving the end of the pandemic.  I hope and pray that outbreaks around the world will begin to fade and that everyone who needs treatment, both mental and physical,  can get it soon.  The suffering of so many for so long is hard to comprehend.  I’m sure that more people are hurting than even what we know, and what we know is overwhelming.   

It is hard to get a sense of where we are post pandemic, but I have a feeling that the secularization of our society is only going to accelerate.  As mental health takes the stage of our consciousness, we will likely see the influence of social science swell.  This trend was already happening, but will likely accelerate.  This secularization will accelerate the diminishing influence of the church as new social norms are established around social science.  There will be a focus on childhood trauma and perhaps an even more intense pressure on parents to be perfect.  This will result in lower birth rates as people avoid parenthood and the increase in social judgement.  More young people will choose not to have children.  Social services to children will take priority, largely in the federal government as the Democratic Party holds increasing power in the federal government.

Radicalization of the Christian church in response to their increasingly diminishing influence will continue as we have seen with the rise of Donald Trump and other populist leaders.  This radicalization and preoccupation with political influence will accelerate the loss of credibility with the rising generation who will see frantic and fearful defenders of the church with increasing disgust.  

The questions we must ask ourselves are: what are the consequences of the centralization of political power into a single political party in the United States?  The government is the most likely vehicle by which social justice priorities will find expression.  How will society change when government becomes the primary source of moral and spiritual guidance?  What form will religious worship take now that it is no longer a conscious practice?  Because religion has evolved with mankind for thousands of years, is it possible for us to supplant it with modern studies, statistics, and scientific analysis that spans only a century?  If religion is to remain an influence in society, what ways does it need to change?  How can it prove its worth to a generation of young people who find it antiquated and irrelevant?

These are not easy questions to answer.  I wish I were more certain about the future or more able to influence it.  I feel like a cork floating down a stream.  I hear the coming waterfall, but I’m powerless to fight the current.  Trust in the Savior and faith that he hasn’t abandoned humanity is my only hope.  

During a faith crisis, it’s hard to know what I even believe anymore.  Sometimes I feel pretty cynical.  Most of the time I understand that everything that is happening has a plan and a purpose even if I don’t see what it is right now.  

Pepper Queen of the Universe

“I look forward to his smile every day!” she said with her characteristic sparkle in her eyes as I dropped off Austin this morning.  “So do I,” I said subdued. And I remembered that I do look forward to his smile. Every day when I pick him up from preschool and recognition lights his eyes, when his brothers come home from school, when he sees that I made him a Nutella sandwich folded in half, when we get to his favorite page of the picture book.  His smile. His excitement. His boundless energy and imagination. In a depression fogged mind, those moments are like a drug. They get me through. “Look at them,” she said lovingly. I saw those little four year olds sitting at their desks in her classroom. They are so beautiful. Everything good in the world seemed crammed into that little preschool class this morning.  “This is the best job in the world,” she said. And she’s right. Caring for these little ones is the best job in the world. Austin is my sunshine and my joy. I walked out of the school with my heart a little lighter as I thought of my boy and my dog. Sweet Pepper would be waiting for me at home.

Yesterday, Pepper was sitting in my lap with her liquid eyes searching mine.  She seems at times to have the wisdom of the universe in the depths of those eyes and I wonder if I’ve had it all wrong.  If God isn’t above us but below us. Is God really in marble halls and stately throne rooms in the vast heavens? Or is he in the furry body of a rescue dog…….Perhaps both.  Austin and I were talking about Jesus last night before bed. Pepper was curled up beside him. We had just read Owl Moon, so he was uncharacteristically calm.  He said, “Did Jesus make us?” I said, “Yes.”  He said, “And Pepper made Jesus.” I think he meant Jesus made Pepper, but the thought of Pepper being the creator of the Savior was intriguing.  She looked at me again with those sagacious eyes and I could almost imagine her as queen of the universe.

And so the boy and the dog get me up in the morning.  They give me a reason to get out of bed. My older sons have to fend for themselves.  My ten year old came into my room ten minutes after his tardy bell had rung. His face was unruffled.  “You’re late bud. Why aren’t you at school?” I asked. Realization dawned on his face and then it crumpled into despair.  He has been tardy so much this year. I have screamed at and pleaded and punished both myself and him to fix the problem. Today I just hugged him and said, “It’s okay.  Everyone is late sometimes. Just get to school. It will be okay.”

****Trigger warning; murder of children*****

Last night I couldn’t sleep.  I lay awake after reading a story about a Pennsylvania husband and father who came home from work on Valentine’s Day to find his wife and six year old son murdered in his home.  He was shot in the forehead, but not seriously injured. It wasn’t until later that he found out who had tried to kill him and who had destroyed his family. It was his one surviving teenage son who has now been charged.

This father had a good life.  He had a wife he loved. She was in the middle of making his favorite meal for dinner when she was killed.  He dropped the flowers he had bought for her on his way home when he was shot. The teenage son appeared to love his little brother dearly.  What happened? There have been theories. Apparently the parents were racially prejudiced. Some find comfort in the thought that somehow something these people did caused this tragedy to occur.  I find no such comfort because I know, as all of us do deep down, that tragedy can happen to any of us. The renowned doctor in China who tried to raise the warning about the coronavirus covid-19 died from it.  Hundreds of people are dying because they chose the wrong cruise ship, they live in the wrong city, they boarded the wrong plane. It is estimated that 2% of those who contract the virus die. As I considered the 75,000 people who have contracted it.  That is thousands of people. Thousands of families ripped apart and changed forever. Why? Because of the random cruelty of life.

At work Ben got a message from the IT department of American Airlines.  An employee of theirs collapsed at his desk job. He was rushed to the emergency room where he died.  His wife is due to give birth to their second child tomorrow. He has a three year old daughter. As I looked at the photo of their family, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  They were clearly Indian (from India). They looked to be in their twenties or early thirties; thin and fit with the wife very pregnant and a cute little girl with short dark hair.  I have no idea how he died or why. I don’t know if they have family support or if he had some kind of insurance. Fortunately the American Airlines family has raised a considerable amount of money for them.  Still, the story left me shocked and confused.  

So last night my mind ruminated to a dark place.  Exhausted and unable to rest, thoughts of despair overwhelmed me.  I tried to pray. I tried to connect with God. There was no relief.  There was no faith or hope. No future beyond the darkness surrounding me.  I finally fell asleep and woke up late and exhausted.

And now I come to the keyboard to write again.  To try to make sense of it all. I have a therapy appointment this afternoon, so hopefully Shama will be able to help me.  On the surface, I’m doing really well. I’ve been organizing and cleaning. My house looks better than it has in a very long time.  Old piles and projects that have been cluttering my ADHD life for literally years are now put away. New projects are arising with new positive energy.  Still, it feels like I’m playing the part of Atlas carrying the world on my shoulders. I’m running the car on fumes and when it stops I put in a half gallon of gas so that I can drive another mile.  I’m irritable and on edge. I’m one news story away from despair.

Breathe……and again……taking in the present moment.  Life is a crucible, but God is good. He gives us moments- brief but sufficient, to refocus and recharge.  All good things come from him. Nothing bad happens on this Earth but that he can turn it to good. Even when the Son of God was taken by men, humiliated, tortured, and murdered; God turned it to good.  God can take the political rancor and polarization, the rank injustice and cruelty, the chaos and destruction, and turn it to good. And he will. The Savior said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  I used to think that was a strange thing. Why would the sad be blessed? I was taught that happiness was a virtue and it seemed a contradiction. It doesn’t anymore. If you are already happy in this world, why would you look for a better world?  If you are happy on your own, why would you come to Christ for comfort? Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed be the name of my merciful comfort, even Jesus Christ, Him who ransoms me from the darkness of my night. I will place my trust in thee and cast my burdens at thy feet.  I will dare to hope another day.

Waiting

Today I helped a new sister clean her house before she moved in.  I usually never do stuff like this, but I decided to today for several reasons.  For one thing, this lady was assigned as one of my ministering sisters. Another thing, is I am trying to be supportive of the new Relief Society presidency.  Another thing is, it’s good for me to serve and socialize even though it isn’t my favorite thing to do.

When I arrived, I saw familiar faces from church standing in a circle and chatting.  I had just dropped off my baby with the sitter and was eager to get started, but I engaged a little in the small talk about the house.  I thought it interesting to see how each sister chose a different part of the house to clean. I chose the tile grout. Why?

I like getting deep into the dirty parts in the foundation.  A clean floor is a clean house to me. Other sisters wiped out cupboards or did other stuff.  I didn’t really pay attention to them. I just focused on my job. As I listened to the other sisters talk, I thought about all the reasons I don’t fit in.  I remember long ago my counselor talked to me about women and the way we compete with one another for status. Being thin, pretty, a good housekeeper, a devoted mother, having a wealthy husband, having a successful career…..these are all values that we compete in.  Inevitably, I find myself feeling inadequate as others jockey for position within the female social framework. Why? I am reasonably thin, well educated, and otherwise successful. What makes me ashamed? It is self-knowledge.

Self-esteem has always been a tricky thing for me.  You can’t esteem what you don’t understand and I don’t really know myself.  This depressive episode has charted more territory in my self-discovery than ever before, but I don’t always like what I find.  Self-discovery can be painful when I confront my own illusions, my motivations, my fears, and everything else that I prefer not to look at.  Also, as I discover more about myself, I realize that who I am is not under my control nearly as much as I wanted to think it was. I am a product of forces like my community, my family, my genetics, my habits.  These things are like concrete. At one time, they may have been flexible and moldable, but over the course of the forty years I have been alive, they have hardened into the shape of me. This shape I am still discovering, but one thing I am certain of:  no amount of working out at the gym, reading to enrich my mind, or self-improvement effort is going to make me over into the person who can, with authenticity, present myself to others as anything but a deeply flawed person. I am convinced that the only way I want to live is with authenticity, so I don’t have much to say in superficial conversations that seem to involve posturing.  

This is tricky territory I am wandering into.  I don’t want to imply that I am judging and condemning other women for their posturing.  I would just as soon condemn my dog for licking her bottom. It is what dogs do. As women, we posture and compete and jockey for position.  It’s what we do. I just don’t do it and I never really understood why before, but today I think I made some progress. Sometimes I thought something was wrong with me and that was why I seemed disinterested, discouraged, or even annoyed during these social interactions.  Now I see that what is right with me is what is wrong with me. My own self-knowledge of my flaws, coupled with my determination to live with authenticity, result in my overall disenchantment with superficial human interaction in general.

So what I thought in the past was social anxiety, seems to be to be something else.  It is a tendency toward self preservation; a need to live authentically and be accepted for who I truly am, not for a projection I’d like others to think I am.  So as I scrubbed the stains from the tile floor, I considered myself, in that space, being me, observing the other sisters around me, and seeing everything from this new perspective.

And then, I started thinking about the people who were not there–the previous owners of the home.  Of course, they had foreclosed the house and left it in a sorry state, so no one was very complimentary of them.  We were engaged in cleaning the grime of years that had accumulated in what had been their home. Then the thought occurred to me, that these faceless, nameless people had been in our ward.  They were not members of the church, but they had lived in my ward boundaries and as such, they were technically in my ward family. They had struggled and suffered and lived out their days in my neighborhood and only now did I spare a thought for them.  Why was I cleaning their house now, and not months or years before? Why was this family worthy of my help and the other wasn’t? Were they not just as loved by their Heavenly Father? At this moment, that family is probably moving into another home somewhere, but surely God is aware of them and loves them just as much as he loves me.  Seeing myself within this picture of other divine children both on the covenant path and off it, helps me to understand my own place in this world and what he would have me do. I’m not the woman I wish I were, but perhaps I am who he needs me to be.

That is where grace comes in.  I am not the woman I wish I were.  Still, the Savior died for me. He loves me that much, so I can give myself a little grace.  I can look into my dark places and give myself some forgiveness that I fall short. I can restrain the inner critic and unleash the inner nurturer and allow myself to be; to exist without judgement.  There is no greater gift one person can give another; suspended judgement.  

When something imperfect is allowed to exist, it reminds me of the plan of salvation and the wisdom of my God.  He created this world, an anomaly within the cosmos, a temporal vaccuume in the fabric of eternity, a place where justice and perfection are suspended and sin and death are allowed to exist.  This place, the training and testing place of the spirit sons and daughters of God, is a crucible of pain and growth. One of the hardest things to learn in life is to do as God has done. To suspend judgement.  To allow our fellow men to make their choices and love them regardless of what those choices are and how they affect us is to approach the throne of God himself. That is what he has done. He suspends his judgment until the end.  He has given us the hope of salvation through the sacrifice of his son. And he waits. He waits for us to find ourselves and one another in the mess that is this world. He waits for us to feel after him and remember ourselves; not the shallow images of our vain imaginations, but the God that lives within us.  He waits. He waits for me.

A Light in Darkness; MCO in NYC

There have been so many thoughts swirling around my brain for the last week I hardly know where to begin.  Yesterday, I flew back to Dallas after spending three days in New York City. I could write for pages and pages about these experiences, but I really don’t want to make it a travel log.  My Lord wants me to write about Carnegie Hall and my choir, the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras.

This is Brett Stewart conducting the choir and orchestra.

I have written about our director and co-founder, Brett Stewart and how last spring I wrote him a thank you letter.  Well, he was there at Carnegie Hall along with almost all of my friends from the Dallas choir. It was so fun to see them again, even for just a short time.  As we packed ourselves onstage like sardines, I thought of how incredible this organization is. Our Friday concert was almost entirely composed of musicians from Idaho and Texas who had traveled to New York, arranged transportation and housing, and taken time out of their busy summer schedule to be here……and there were almost a thousand of us.  That represents incredible sacrifice and dedication! Part of it was due to the once in a lifetime opportunity to sing in Carnegie Hall, but it was also due to the understanding that we have something in MCO that is worth putting onstage in Carnegie Hall, and that we all have to give of ourselves to make it happen.

This is the Alto 2 section. I’m on the second row, second from the right.

So we put up with the heat, the crowded hallways, the lack of water, the standing for hours, the strain of singing and playing at the level MCO demands of us, and we did it.  We performed to a full house in Carnegie Hall. It was the most polished, professional, inspiring concert I have ever sung in. The soloist, Erin Morley, was world class, the violinist, Jenny Oaks Baker, was on fire.  One of the incredible things I saw was in the violin section. There is a fabulous violinist that has been performing with Dallas for six years. She usually gets the solos and she leads the orchestra in tuning and stuff.  I’m not an instrumentalist so I don’t know what she her title is, but she is incredibly talented. I saw that she had moved her chair over to the right to make room for the woman who took her place in the combined orchestra.  If it bothered her to be demoted, it didn’t show. Then that woman, who I had not seen before, but I assume was even more accomplished than the first, watched Jenny Oaks Baker take the stage to perform the solo pieces. Likewise, the soprano soloists that had performed in our Dallas and Idaho concerts gave up their solos for Erin Morley.    

Music and art can reek of ego and stuffiness.  Even the venues we perform at can be so stiflingly rigid with tradition and dogma.  There are so many rules and so much pressure when we bring a thousand people into a place like that.  In addition, many of them are children. The logistics are incredibly complex! The need for people to set aside their own desire for fame and special privileges is absolute in such a setting.  As we were able to do that, we had an incredible performance…..together. Working together. Sacrificing together. Maybe singing in MCO is the closest I’ll ever get to being on a sports team. If MCO is a sports team, we took the championship Friday night!

This is the full grand chorus, orchestra, and young singers chorus on stage in Carnegie. The other children were in box seating in the balcony or standing in the aisles. Joni Jensen is conducting.

So Saturday came and I vaguely wanted to go to Arizona’s concert in the afternoon, or the California/Utah concert Saturday night, but that would involve a lot of work to secure a ticket, and I would be going by myself.  I finally decided I would rather just hang out with the Eldreges, who had taken me in as an extra family member while I was in New York. As the sun went behind the buildings, I felt pretty drowsy. We walked into the lobby of our hotel, the Wellington, and we heard a “Pop!”  The lights went out. We learned that the entire block had lost power. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. I figured the lights would come back on in an hour or so. We walked up the stairs to our room and I took a nap.

It wasn’t until later that I heard about the full importance of what happened that night.  First, it wasn’t just our city block that lost power. It was a major power outage that impacted all of Manhattan.  The subways were down, the street lights were out, half of Times Square was in darkness, Broadway shows were cancelled, people were shut out of their high rise apartments and hotels, and the streets were flooded with people.  Most significant to me, they had evacuated the California/Utah casts from Carnegie Hall and the choir had started singing in the street. I was told about the singing, but I was too drowsy to realize the significance of what was happening below me.  I could hear the beautiful sound of MCO singing from the street, but I fell back asleep.  

Over the last couple of days, the full significance of Saturday night has come to light.  Saturday night was the 42nd anniversary of the last major blackout in New York City. It was also, “Manhattanhenge” which meant that the sun would shine through the buildings, bathing the city in golden light.  This only happens four times a year. The impromptu street concert was performed at 8:30, just as the sun was setting, casting this golden glow onto the performers. People were streaming out of the dark subway tunnel and onto this scene. 

Keep in mind that these singers had traveled across the country at their family’s expense to sing in Carnegie Hall. They learned that their concert had been cancelled. Imagine their grief! Imagine their pain! And yet, they sang. And New York listened.  And then Twitter listened. And then Facebook listened. And YouTube. And before long, news programs were showing footage of the street concert. A video of the choir singing Mack Wilburg’s “I Believe in Christ” went viral accumulating millions of views.

My heart has broken for the cast members that had their Carnegie dream dashed, especially since I got mine on Friday night.  Some of them are still in shock and grieving that the trip they had been planning and looking forward to for a year was disrupted so badly.  Still, I see the hand of God in Saturday night. Their grief and their sacrifice was a part of the scene. It gave their music resonance and meaning.  Like the light that shown through the buildings, their music shown brighter through their grief; giving it a precious glow that would be absent otherwise.  There is no replacing the Carnegie singing experience. The involuntary sacrifice of the concert can and should be grieved. The street concert and the aftermath does not make up for the loss and those who are still sad should be allowed to feel their sadness as long as they need to.  Still, I marvel at the design of a wise and merciful God who takes the sadness, destruction, and disappointment in this world and turns it to good. He reaches out to his children wherever they are and touches them with beauty in unexpected places and ways. Like the sun during Manhattanhenge, it makes its way to them through the obstacles.

The light of our Savior, Jesus Christ, shines to a world in need.  None are outside of his love no matter their choices or life experiences.  He loves us! He reaches out to us in the darkness of our subway platforms when man’s genius fails and leaves us without a path.  He is there for us. He will find a way to bless us and bring his light to us when our lights are not enough.

God bless MCO and the singers from the California and Utah choirs for being his instrument in New York on Saturday!  I salute you and grieve with you. As the trials of life descend upon us individually and collectively, we can stand together, sing together, grieve together, and bring the whole world to the feet of Him who is Mighty to Save, even Jesus Christ.  Amen!!!

Our conductors were prompted to put this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint hymn, “I Believe in Christ” in our Carnegie Concert. Video of this song went viral.

Giving Grace- Have a Tutu!

Grace is not a word we use often in my church. I can’t think of a single hymn in our hymnbook or children’s songbook that has it as a prominent theme. Even the famous Amazing Grace is missing from our hymnbook. My religion tends toward more of a works based religion. Our symbol is the beehive, and we revere the pioneers who were trail blazers, survivors, and hard workers. We associate grace with the protestant churches who have paid ministry. Our church only exists because of volunteers who are willing to roll up their sleeves. Of course, in doctrine, we believe in grace. When we read the scripture “By grace we are saved,” but then we tend to emphasize the second part, “After all we can do.” There are various metaphors for faith and works that have been taught to me over the years and they have worked for me for most of my life. Not anymore.

Something about this depressive episode has caused me to gravitate to the word grace. It is beauty, it is strength, it is poise. It is a ballerina on the stage. That dancer didn’t achieve grace through running or weight lifting. She didn’t hone her skills on the football field through taking tough hits. And yet in many ways, her training is just as brutal and taxing. It is balance, concentration, focus, and artistic expression.

Sometimes I think my worship has been more like football and less like ballet. Perhaps my embrace of grace is symbolic of the changes I am making religiously. I am taking off the football pads and putting on my tutu. I am tapping into my spiritual artist, centering and balancing my priorities, and focusing and concentrating on the things that matter most.

Crow pose. Its hard to do, and some days I just don’t have the grace to do it. Like forgiveness.

Grace is forgiveness. It isn’t the forced forgiveness that is born of fear that there will remain in me the “greater sin” if I don’t feel warm and fuzzy toward someone. It is forgiveness that springs naturally when you see every person as a creation of God who has beauty and good in them; that although they fall short and that their choices effect me, that I can see God’s design in it. It’s complicated. Its like holding the crow pose in yoga. Sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can look at the people around me and give everyone grace, and sometimes I just have to run out of the room. Today I could give grace.

So I started a fight in Relief Society. Yes. It was kind of intentional. I knew what I had to say would throw a grenade into the lesson two minutes before the lesson was supposed to end. Still, I am the queen of uncomfortable, so I did it. My Lord said speak, so I spoke. After a few sentences she was cutting me off, but I kept speaking. I knew I needed to speak this message, and it didn’t matter that the primary kids were leaving and it didn’t matter that I was nobody and she was the one in charge. It didn’t matter because my Lord wanted me to speak.

The lesson was on truth. The Family Proclamation was on the chalkboard. I thought about how I used to display it prominently in my home. That was before I knew the truth I know now. Would I want to hang it on my wall now? I still believe it is true. But I also know that other things are also true.

This Proclamation wasn’t very controversial when it was first given in 1995. It lays out the views of the church on the doctrine of gender and marriage. It is criticized by many as anti-LGBT. Click on the image to get a closer look.

Its true that gender is so much more complicated than I thought it was. That mental and emotional health is such a fragile thing, and that simplistic views spoken at the wrong time to the wrong person can drive people away from the Savior. That people can and do have same gender attraction and that it isn’t their fault. That some people are born female, and feel they are male and vice versa. That these people are valuable. Yes, the Proclamation on the Family is true, but they have truth too. We need to listen to them. We need to help them make the church work in their lives. That takes the grace and balance and skill of a dancer.

In the past, we could get by with a simplistic football style gospel. It got the job done. Today, we need to dig a little deeper to find the grace that the Savior has. We need the humility to understand that we know nothing of God and his design. We are as babes on his lap when it comes to his wisdom. Can we listen to his children? Can we hear their pain? Can we make his church a place they feel accepted and welcomed no matter what their sins are? Can we gracefully tip-toe through the minefield of their emotions to give them the love and the acceptance that Christ has?

I don’t have the answers. I know people who hang the family proclamation in their homes in a prominent place. I also know people who can no longer go to church because they feel too much emotional and mental anguish because people don’t take the time and effort to understand their unique challenges and meet them where they are. I know that we can do better as members of Christ’s church to see others as he does; not focusing on their outward appearance, but upon their hearts; to love first, and judge later, if at all. To stand for the truth, when its hard and uncomfortable; to speak for those who have no voice.

We need grace! We need HIS grace. He didn’t turn away from the beggar in his misery. He didn’t ignore the outcast. He welcomed all to come unto him. He showed us grace. It came from him like light emanating from the sun! If he were here, he would not turn away from the LGBT people. He would embrace them. He would accept them. He would tell them they have value and worth. He would explain to them why they were created in God’s image and the purpose and meaning of their unique experiences. He would lead them gently on their path without force or compulsion; with encouragement and praise. He would give them knowledge about mysteries that I don’t understand and perhaps never will in this life. He would give them grace.

This picture is one of my favorites. The Savior refuses to allow this man to suffer in the shadows of his filthy space. He lifts up the tattered blanket, and has compassion on the man. He doesn’t smell the stench, or recoil from the deformity. He sees the valuable life within and the joyful future of a healed life. This is grace!

It isn’t that the Proclamation to the Family isn’t true. It absolutely is. But there are a lot of things that are true and good and righteous that I fall short in. There are challenges that I face that others don’t understand. I am learning to give myself grace; to allow myself to be the person He wants me to be instead of the person others want me to be. As I have allowed myself to receive his grace, I want to give it to others.

I have three dear friends I know who identify as LGBT. I have one cousin by marriage who does. They are each different and have chosen their paths. I don’t see evil in them. I do see evil in those who shut them out. None of them goes to church anymore. My closest friend that I have had many tear jerking conversations with told me that she tried for many months to work with her leaders and make the church a place she could be comfortable. For her mental health, she had to stop going. She told me she still takes bread and water at home in a lonely sacrament. With lessons like the one we had today, I understand why she was uncomfortable. It saddens me to think that we are missing out on the truths that they might share with us if we had the humility to listen to them.

I have never met anyone that doesn’t have a friend or the friend of a friend who is LGBT. If not LGBT, then they are drinking coffee, or having sex outside of marriage, or not living the law in some other way. I don’t know if I would feel comfortable inviting these friends to come to church. What would they hear? Would they feel accepted? Is our ward a place where we can be honest and real about our journey and our experiences? If not, can we really call ourselves the Lord’s church? If we are so eager to show everyone what we know that we fail to listen and nurture his sheep that have strayed, do we resemble the Savior or the ones who killed him?

So I shared the story of my friend who came out as bisexual after being raised in the church. I told those sisters that we don’t have all the answers, as much as we like to think we do. I told them that God loves my friend. He has a path for her. It was awkward, and part of me thought, “Mother’s Day sucks so hard. Why didn’t they just let me teach in Primary?” Part of me was glad I said the uncomfortable thing even though it was kind of a hand grenade in that room of well dressed women and pinterest perfect muffins and cookies. Sometimes life isn’t Pinterest perfect.p

It isn’t that I want to take out a whip and beat my fellow members of the church. I love you. You are smart and dedicated and faithful. I’m just handing you a tutu. We are at a crossroads right now in the church. We as members can choose to follow the Savior (do ballet), or to follow dogma and tradition (play football). The prophet and our leaders are showing us that love, compassion, and grace are the way. I don’t have the answers yet. I just know that I love my LGBT friends. I want them to feel loved and welcomed at church along with all those, like me, who see themselves as sinners. It is possible to hold up a standard to the world, and yet fully love and embrace everyone who falls under it. The Savior showed the way. Put on your tutu, and let’s dance!

The Testimony of Notre Dame

Watching Notre Dame burn yesterday, I felt as though something of myself was being consumed. One year ago to the day, my husband and I were walking through this majestic cathedral, drinking in this masterpeice of faith and devotion, home to thousands of lovingly created works of art; a testimony to the devotion of generations and centuries of people.  The destruction of so much beauty, history, and value brought me to tears.  After spending the day in morose reflection, I have again found my faith.  I see the images of smoke rising like incense as a prayer; a sacrifice, a reminder.  Everything on this earth is fragile. No matter how beautiful, no matter how much human blood, sweat, and tears have been invested, everything on this Earth was made to die.

I also watched this church video yesterday about a man who backed up his truck and accidentally killed his nine year old son. The senseless and terrible loss of this child seemed to mirror the loss of Notre Dame, with obvious differences, of course. Still, whether a cathedral, a child, or even civic virtues like civility and honest; all loss feels the same. The sense of incredulity, the desperate wish to make it different, to change what is, to repair and restore what once was.

But eventually we must accept the reality; nothing in this world will last. Every creation that exists is temporary and fallen.

This week is a celebration of our Savior’s death and resurrection.  We could not have the resurrection without the crucifixion.  The horror and evil of the one makes the other the more glorious and transcendent.  The longer I live, the more the resurrection means to me.  I testified to my boys about the resurrection on Sunday and they just looked at me like, “What’s the big deal?”  To me, it is everything.

The world considers anxiety and depression to be abnormalities; the result of a pathology.  I consider them to be the natural state of a rational mind that is conscious of the fallen state we are in.  Consider the sorrow!  I have a good life with much joy and happiness, but I have lost two friends to untimely death in the last few years.  I have a good friend who lost a sister to cancer a year ago.  This same friend has lost a couple of sister-in-laws to cancer.  All of these people were young mothers and fathers with families.  I have a friend from college whose twin sons died hours after birth.  My parents will likely pass away in the next fifteen years.  Ben’s dad died of cancer a couple of years ago.  Each time I read the news, see the images of suffering around the world, contemplate on the vast capacity of mankind to commit atrocity upon his fellow creatures; the despair within me grows.  Of course it does!  How could it not?

Perhaps that is why the song, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” in our MCO concert last weekend hit me with such force.  I had never heard the Rob Gardner arrangement before, but the words combined with the inspired music seemed to resonate within my heart strings like the bow on a violin.  


25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

John 11:25

Each day that I live in this fallen world, I have to keep that hope before me. It is more than a good feeling; it keeps me alive. It is the only way I can bare the thought of living in this world another day. Satan did his worst to Jesus Christ. He combined all his cunning and all his evil; all his power and all his might. Like the fire that burned through the cathedral, there was nothing left when he was finished. There was the shell of a man that once gave life and light to everyone he made contact with. He was dead. Murdered. He was innocent and pure, and yet they killed him. They had won.

Then in three days, he rose again. He conquered death and sin! Not only that, he promised that all that believe on him will also live. Though Satan’s power rages against us. Though evil and darkness gathers like the cloud above Notre Dame. Though the fires of evil, lies, and contention rip through our national fabric destroying so much of value; yet He is Mighty to Save! He can restore! He can bring back what was lost. It is this faith that brings me out of the depths of despair.

For this nation, for this world, I hold the torch of faith and hope aloft. He is the way, the truth, and the life. All those who own him Lord and come unto Him will survive the evil day. There is no man, woman, or child who is shut out from his tender mercies. This is my faith. This is my testimony, born from the flames of Notre Dame.