Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hope and Peace After Divorce

This morning I was reminded of this statement attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."

In the course of my daily walk through this mortal probation, I encounter many who are surfeited by the demands and challenges they face. Too often, they tell me, they became "lost" in the day to day routines of life without focusing on their spiritual well-being. Instead of keeping Chardin's perspective, their human experience overwhelmed them.

Many with whom I interact are the products of the divorce of their parents. Now in their own marriages, they are sometimes persuaded it might be easier to take the same course of their parents. They give up. They choose alternative lifestyles. What once began as a blissful knot-tying in sacred precincts where holy vows of allegiance to one another were pronounced, marriage for them descended into depths of sin, disobedience, indifference, abuse, addiction and anger.

Often what happens in these situations is mortal forgetfulness. We forget our spiritual identity as an eternal son or daughter of God. Of course, some of it is unavoidable because there is a veil of forgetfulness drawn across our minds and spirits when we are born. Brigham Young said in simplest terms of explanation the veil was our physical body shrouding our eternal spirit.

I am aware of three current cases of divorce. None is a happy outcome right now. The challenge before the individuals involved puts them on a path to choose - either they will become better for the experience, or they will become bitter.

The confusion when divorce of parents is the final outcome is palpable. "What will become of me if my parents divorce?" some ask. Can a child whose parents divorce still claim the blessings of the sealing? Are they still "born under the covenant?" To whom will they be sealed if both parents remarry? These are but a few of the questions that arise. And then when repentance is in evidence later on, the aftermath of the divorce presents opportunities to learn to forgive those who inflicted so much pain. Along the way there are hidden nuggets of gold waiting to be discovered for the earnest seeker of truth.

I am not an expert on divorce. Just the opposite. Mine has been a blissful marriage of harmony and shared goals through all the ups and downs of life. It has not been without challenges. It has been anything but smooth sailing. But who's complaining? It's what we signed up for, isn't it?

However, I found a statement by a woman who divorced after several years of marriage and went through eight years of litigation thereafter. She provides a valuable perspective. Said she: "When I told my family I was writing about peace after divorce, they laughed and said, 'Tell them there isn't any!' I'm not telling you that. There is peace. Peace after divorce comes in the process of living. It happens after learning hard lessons. It occurs over time alongside family, friends, and professionals who care. It happens privately but also with many others who share the experience and understand. Peace emerges from pain and accompanies healing. It comes from confronting and accepting truth, from being willing to live and love and forgive and move forward. Divorce is still hard to say, but it has not closed the gate on my own path to life, love, and peace." (Elaine Shaw Sorensen, "Peace After Divorce," in Women in the Covenant of Grace by Susette Fletcher Green and Dawn Hall Anderson, 50).

Detours in our mortal journey are inevitable, and they take many forms. No matter how long or difficult the road may seem, our past cannot hold us prisoner to our future unless we choose it. I have seen many who have overcome the oppression of the past and set their sails for the future voyage with satisfying results. In one case, a woman whose husband was plagued by alcohol addiction for years found a new job that supplied her with the income she needed to raise and support her four children. Life went on for her and her children, and they are happy today because of their choices.

Said another: "A marriage is a commitment between two people that is designed to last for eternity. One person cannot carry that commitment to fruition alone. When it is not being upheld by both parties, it ceases to be eternal. It requires dedication on both sides to make it valid. A hopeless marriage need not be forever; an abusive situation need not be tolerated. You can still have worth as a person with an unsuccessful marriage. My marriage ceased being eternal years before we entered the divorce courts." (Nedra Hardy, "When a Marriage Is Not Celestial," ibid., 55).

The antidote for dealing with the devastation of divorce is the same I would offer for all life's problems. My life took a detour financially a few years ago. I wish things had turned out differently than they did. Instead of financial security I was seeking, I was escorted back to square one to begin again. It was humbling. I've detailed it in previous posts. I am fortunate to have found a surprisingly fulfilling work life since the debacle of the world's financial meltdown in 2008. I am reminded of a talk title from Hugh Nibley, "Work we must, but the lunch is free." 

During that time I prayed, I fasted, I petitioned, and along the way there were undeniable moments of fears, doubts and frustrations. But those proved to be only punctuation marks in a chapter of my life filled with overwhelming love, assurances and support from my wife and children. Because we could call upon God, our eternal partner in our marriage, ours was a marriage that didn't break under the stress. He carried us and sustained us with grace and charity. I am grateful every day for that reality.

Don't get trapped for too long in your "pity party." Half the people out there don't care what happened to you, and the other half think you got what you deserved. Be happy, keep smiling through the pain. It will get better when you take action, even if it's only tiny baby steps to start in a new direction.

President Thomas S. Monson
Now, as I move along through life, I have discovered success comes from small and seemingly insignificant choices. We learn lessons, we grow, we mature in spiritual things, and what happens "in the thick of thin things" pales by comparison. We learn to love and serve others when we are afflicted. Turning outward to help others has long been the recipe President Thomas S. Monson recommends. We learn to love vegetables and fruit instead of a steady diet of Peanut M&Ms.

Each marriage is filled with tests. Whether marriage ends or goes on, what makes the difference is how we choose. And the choice is always ours. It really doesn't matter what our parents did before us, or our spouses who may choose poorly. We are free to make of our lives what we will. And with a little bit of work we can usually figure out how to do it better together than apart.

And we can be at peace with God's spirit, no matter what comes our way.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Home Teaching, An Inspired Text Message

One good story begets another, and this post's guest blogger is a daughter-in-law who described an experience our son, Joe, had with a home teaching family a few months ago. I had intended to post it when I received it, but never got to it until today.

I am grateful to Toni for sharing this experience they had recently with a family Joe home teaches. I thought about how the Lord is able to magnify "small and simple things" as we extend ourselves in service to those who need us. I hope it provides as much inspiration for you as it did for me. I've changed the names except for our family members.


I know Joe has contacted you for information about one of the families he home teaches where the father has been excommunicated. I wanted to share a story with you that happened between them this week.

Joe is such a dedicated home teacher. His care and concern is unmatched. I am thankful for the example that you have been to him in this regard. I am thankful for the example he is to my family. We pray together for his families and talk about different things that will help them.

Joe has always been given part-member, in-active, and struggling families. He takes the responsibility very seriously to impart the Spirit, share the gospel, and invite the families to make changes.

He gives Rick weekly reading assignments and checks in with him on his progress. At his last visit he invited him to prepare for his re-baptism and to meet with the Bishop to determine what he needed to still do as part of the repentance process. He accepted. (Rick has been very concerned that he "know" more of the scriptures before he is re-baptized.)

This Sunday, Joe had been praying and studying and decided to assign an excerpt from the dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland Temple, Doctrine and Covenants, Section 109. He sent the assignment via text message.

Rick started reading his assignment during Church and responded to Joe's text that verse 42 had struck him like no verse ever had before, he couldn't hold back his tears, and that he was going to visit with the Bishop right after Church.

Joe was thrilled, but didn't remember verse 42 being one that he had highlighted or thought would be moving.  He commented as much to me and we read it together. Joe said, "Well, you never know what will affect the reader." But we were so pleased with the result.

This Tuesday he went for a visit to Rick's home. Joe said, "So, verse 42, huh?" and started to read it. Rick said, "No, that is not the verse." Joe said, "Yeah, I gave you Section 109."  Rick said, "You gave me Section 93." He pulled out his phone and showed Joe. He had, indeed, sent Section 93 instead of 109. Verse 42 reads, "You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction." Rick was being told why he felt conflict in his heart about the Church and his life, and he understood.

We are so thankful for the Spirit that helps us as we serve others by performing miracles, and softening hearts. What may have looked like a mistake by Joe, was really God working through him, speaking to one of His lost sheep.

We are thrilled for this family of seven that will soon all be reborn in the covenant again, worthy of all the blessings of a temple sealing. Sunday, Rick's, his wife's, their children's and our family's prayers were all answered by a simple text message.

I love you,


Home Teaching and Becoming "Valiant"

Today's guest blogger is oldest son, Jeff. For a season, as he explains below, Jeff was inactive in the Church, disaffected and disillusioned about life in general and the Church in particular. His story is not dissimilar to many in the Church today, and he and I agreed his story about how he is becoming a more diligent home teacher might be instructive. I've changed the names of all the participants except Jeff's family of Kim, Izach and Tessi.

In Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn those who inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom, "are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kindgom of our God." (Verse 79, emphasis mine). By extension and implication, then, we may assume those who do inherit the crown are valiant in their testimony of Jesus. The Church offers many facets in the diadem of celestial glory. Home teaching is one way we demonstrate our willingness to "step up" and be counted.

Not Your Model Home Teacher

I'm the first to admit, I'm not exactly the poster child of a home teacher. I know I have brothers who are way more qualified to address the subject and who have been seen as an example of what a great home teacher looks like. I guess my lack of home teaching excitement stems from my hippie days of using the excuse, "If we all just treated each other as brothers and sisters and acted as good neighbors, there'd be no need for home teaching." I think the better answer now is simply, I never had a testimony of home teaching.

I remember home teachers coming throughout my early years, though some sporadically, but we always had Dad, so who needs home teachers? I remember Dad teaming me up with his counselor when he served as Bishop of the young married student ward at the U of U. It was when I was preparing for my mission. Honestly, I remember going, but couldn't tell you who we visited or lessons taught. All I do remember is how Travis Baer made me feel after as we sat in his car or mine for hours taking about how hard being a teenager was, or what the meaning of life was for me at the time. I guess Dad was inspired to that end, but I still had no real testimony of home teaching or its value.

For years I declined to be a home teacher, citing my job in timeshare and its odd hours as a valid reason why I couldn't get with families. I also hated the idea of letting a family down which I knew I'd probably never visit. A few years ago when I had settled into my new job, I was given my assignment of two families. After the outpouring of service and help we received from this ward, I felt it was an opportunity to try and serve or give back in some way, so I accepted, and was determined to change my lacking ways.

I was assigned two families, both were familiar names, and both were prominent names surrounded by family within the ward. Why do these guys need home teachers when their parents and siblings live next door or down the street? It seemed rather redundant, but it saw it as an easy task. Imagine my surprise when the mother of one of the families approached me and told me I had been hand selected to home teach her son. She held an important calling in the ward and knew the needs of everyone, and she wanted me to take care of her son's family as they had recently come back to Church after a few years away. I didn't want to let her down, she had been so good to us since moving into the ward. I home taught sporadically. We had them for dinner and invited them to social events and called it home teaching so I could be seen as at least 50% on months I actually went. Izach had left on his mission and my new companion was shy and withdrawn when he was at Church, so I mostly went solo.

I built a relationship pretty fast with Brian and Jenna, as both had divorces and inactivity in their pasts. I'd say we became friends and understood each other on many different levels. Brian made it very clear in the beginning that if I showed up in a white shirt and tie, I may not be let in. Those who know me, know that my casual dress most my life is my calling card. I remember several times growing up, the look and the "You're not wearing that are you?" They are words I mostly heard from Mom, though I continue to hear them from Kim on occasion. The casualness was ideal for me and encouraged me to get my home teaching done. I found myself enjoying my visits and discussions with Brian and Jenna. The best way to describe Brian would be me in my twenties, though he is probably five to ten years my senior. Saying things controversial to get reactions, or purposely wearing a colored shirt to Church, anything to see who would judge, were things we had in common. Anything to stir the pot just a little, or to provoke the label of a "Rebel Mormon" that follows the beat of his own drum.

A few months ago, our Elders quorum president re-assigned all the home teaching. I looked at the names and immediately after class approached President McCarthy, lobbying to keep the Hoffmans as one of my families. I even told him I'd keep the two he had assigned me in addition to Brian and Jenna. He told me that with Izach back as my companion, he felt impressed to assign me the Bells. He explained that Brent's and Brittany's 19 year-old son could really use Izach's influence as he was now graduated, not really working a job, not planning a mission, and not coming to Church much. He said with this new assignment, he wanted to give me another low maintenance family. I told him he couldn't take Brian and Jenna from me, and I'd gladly take all three as long as I could keep them. He caved and let me keep Hoffmans and added Bells, but re-assigned the third to someone else.

With the new challenge and inspiration that they needed Izach, I knew I had to step up my efforts and commitment to be more diligent in my home teaching efforts and if nothing else, be a better example to Izach than I'd been in the past. My new assignment came the end of May and we jumped right on it and visited both families the first weekend of June. It felt good to have 100% home teaching for June and to be done so early in the month. Last week, I felt an urgency to stay on track and get our visits done early in the month. Little did I know at the time what the real urgency was, but I would find out Sunday after Church.

After meetings I rushed home and got some lunch for the girls and got changed into my shorts and flip flops home teaching uniform. Izach had ducked out of our meetings to attend the singles ward. He arrived home just in time to leave and so he stayed in his shirt and tie from church. We spent about forty minutes visiting with the Bells and left them with a simple message and prayer. Their son, James, was there for the second month in a row and I congratulated him on being at Church earlier in the day. I was hoping that we were somehow making a difference with him, but it's hard to know with a wayward teenager. Izach and I have both borne testimony on whatever our message is, and I hope that is somehow getting into James's heart.

We then headed across the street to Hoffmans. Brian met us outside as we were standing on the front steps. He had come from the garage door and yelled, "If you don't know where the side door is by now, we probably shouldn't let you in." We followed him through the side door, through the garage, and into the front room. We started with our normal chit chat and jokes about me being in the flip flops and Izach being in his shirt and tie and how backward to "the norm" that was. The conversation moved quickly into bad relationships and ex's, driven mostly by the fact that Jenna's son and grandson were living with them and regrouping after a messy breakup. My anxiety grew as I was pulled into the ex bashing. Over the years we let Izach and Tessi hear and see more of our dealings with George and Cindy as they grew older and became adults, though I doubt they will ever hear the full gory details of those horrible years.

As I was pulled deeper into conversation, my uneasiness began to consume me, the Spirit finally said to me, "This is counter-productive, and not what they need." I scrambled in my mind, trying to search for the words of how to steer the conversation back to our topic of Covenants and Ordinances. I'm not even sure how I transitioned the conversation, the Spirit had taken over at that point. Somehow we got to the subject of going to Church for us individually, and not expecting someone else to come prepared to feed us spiritually. I have shared my re-activation story with the Hoffmans in the past, so I picked up my story where I had left off. I explained that as recently as only a few months ago, did Kim realize that I had only been back active about six weeks when we got married. Six weeks after seven years being away! Those first few months were hard. It was hard going to Church, and I'd go as far as to say I hated it and felt it was a complete waste of time. Here I had just gone through a miraculous journey back, laden with deep and profound spiritual experiences, including meeting Kim and marrying eighteen days later. I couldn't understand how so many people just didn't get it. I felt angry and let down every week I went.

As I told Brian and Jenna the story, I gave them my similar close that I had used hundreds of times on my timeshare table. I said, "Guys, there's a hundred reasons not to go to Church, and if you look you'll find all one hundred. But, if you can find just one reason why you should go, and why you need to go, that one reason will be stronger than the hundred not to." As I got emotional, I pointed at Izach and finished. "My one reason was Izach and Tessi. I now had kids to think about, and if for no other reason those first few months, I went for them. They were my one reason." Everyone was a little misty-eyed by the end, and then Jenna spoke up and said, "Thank you. It's funny you would bring all that up. Brian and I have been talking the past few weeks and had decided that maybe we'd take a break from Church for a while." Wow! Funny I would say that? No, it wasn't funny, it wasn't coincidence. The Lord knew exactly what He wanted me to say, and what they needed to hear. I bore testimony that they were needed, that they could make a difference.

You see, it wasn't until I quit focusing on, "What am I getting out of this?" and started looking for ways to help others see and feel what I had experienced in my own conversion, that I finally felt fulfillment in going to Church. I quit going for me, and went for others, and in that I got what I needed.

I now have a testimony of home teaching and why I go. I never had that before, but the calling is as real to me as the day I was called as a full-time missionary. I now go to try and help others avoid the pain of where I've walked and to taste the peace and joy of what I've found on my journey. I'm just a shorts and flip flops kind of home teacher. I'm not saying my dress code is right or wrong. All I know is on a Sunday afternoon the Spirit used me, flip flops and all to make a difference.

In sales we have a saying, "Half the battle is in showing up." I think sometimes that's all the Lord asks.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Last week I received a lengthy e-mail from someone who had discovered these pages. He was obviously a very intelligent and thoughtful man, wisened through years of experience and rigorous intellectual curiosity. He wrote in part:

"I want you to know that I appreciate your blog very much. Yours is one of the few LDS conservative blogs. It is a shame that so many of our fellow Saints have embraced these caustic brands of liberalism, progressivism, and advocacy feminism. When President Packer spoke to the All-Church Coordinating Council in 1993, he was truly being prophetic."

It sent me searching for the talk to which he made reference. President Packer gave a sampling of letters he had received over a period of a few weeks. If you click the link, you will find the talk in its entirety.

President Harold B. Lee
He commenced his talk with a story about President Harold B. Lee:

"The twelfth chapter of Alma is like a field of precious stones lying about on the surface. I have picked one very small one, very precious one, only fifteen words, to use as my text. 'God gave unto them commandments, after [first] having made known unto them the plan of redemption.' (Alma 12:32)

"Thirty-eight years ago [1955] I came from Brigham City to the office I now occupy in the Administration Building to see Elder Harold B. Lee, who, next to President Joseph Fielding Smith, was the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I had just been appointed the supervisor of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. I knew there were serious problems in the system and I wondered why they had not appointed someone with more experience. [Editor's note: This was a year after President Lee's 1954 summer lecture series to the Seminary and Institute teachers designed to address those 'serious problems' which I have written about in these pages].

"Elder Lee had agreed to give me counsel and some direction. He didn't say much, nothing really in detail, but what he told me has saved me time and time again. 'You must decide now which way you face,' he said. 'Either you represent the teachers and students and champion their causes or you represent the Brethren who appointed you. You need to decide now which way you face.' Then he added, 'Some of your predecessors faced the wrong way.' It took some hard and painful lessons before I understood his counsel. In time, I did understand, and my resolve to face the right way became irreversible." (Emphasis mine).

President Boyd K. Packer
In his talk that day, President Packer surfaced the content of the letters he had received from members of the Church who expressed how much they were "hurting" because of the seemingly callous way they perceived they were being treated by uncaring and heavy-handed Church leaders. Life just hadn't been fair, was their implication, and they wanted to help President Packer "see" things differently. Strange, I thought, counseling a "seer" how to "see" better. Each offered to meet and give advice to President Packer on how he could help resolve their hurts and disaffection with the Church. Remember, this was back in 1993.

He cited a letter from an openly homosexual man who offered: "At your convenience I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the issues facing gay Latter-day Saints and the Church. The purpose for meeting is not to debate, or to presumptively call you to repentance, or to be called to repentance myself for being gay. The point is to meet together and share what we have for the good of The Kingdom and the furthering of the Will of the Lord on Earth."

Another came from a woman who had obviously been abused in her relationship with her husband, and she had given up on men in general and turned to advocacy for women's rights as a result. She wrote: "I'm upset that I was always advised to go back and try harder only to get abused more. I need some comfort, I need solace, need hope, need to know Heavenly Father sees all that I have endured. What hope do I have for a chance to live with Heavenly Father? If temple marriage is the key to the celestial [kingdom], where am I? Outside gnashing my teeth for eternity? Help me."

The third came from a self-described "intellectual" who sought an audience with President Packer to presumably educate him on what he (the letter writer) could do to mediate between the scholars in the Church and the General Authorities. Said he: "My concern is that the Brethren are contending with the church's own scholars. . . In the Catholic Church, the great scholars' efforts were used by the Church to refine and strengthen the doctrine (St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, for example). In our Church, the scholars are put down, even banished [and he names three of them, and they would be names all of whom you would know]. Once again I extend an offer to you to be a peacemaker between the Brethren and the scholars, if you wish me to attempt it, since I know so many in both groups. More than that, I understand the mind-sets of both groups."

This morning I was browsing through a sampling of blogs, something I rarely do because I have enough to do in my daily life without overly concerning myself with what critics of the Church's leadership are saying in the vast world of cyberspace. I was not surprised to discover there may be thousands of "enlightened" Church members and former members who are willing to offer their opinions on myriad topics persumably to counsel Church leaders about their deficiencies.

I found one who was giving advice to the leaders of the Church about how to address the dementia that is the "open secret" concerning President Monson. Who knew? Another blogger wrote about "Adultery Mormon Style." Still another had something to say about what the leaders of the Church could do to stop disaffected Mormons from leaving the Church. The word "compromise" was used.

I appreciate the well-intentioned offerings of others in these matters of "grave concern" to them. Their sincerity cannot be doubted.

Distilled to its essence, however, their collective issues are summed up in President Packer's concluding thought:

"The one who supposes that he 'understands the mind-set of both groups' needs to understand that the doctrines of the gospel are revealed through the Spirit to prophets, not through the intellect to scholars.

"Only when they have some knowledge of the plan of redemption will they understand the supposed inequities of life. Only then will they understand the commandments God has given us. If we do not teach the plan of redemption, whatever else we do by way of programs and activities and instructions will not be enough.

"'God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption.' We face invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before. There is the need now to be united with everyone facing the same way. Then the sunlight of truth, coming over our shoulders, will mark the path ahead. If we perchance turn the wrong way, we will shade our eyes from that light and we will fail in our ministries." (Emphasis mine).

I still long for the day that we may all be of one heart and mind in the Kingdom of God here upon the earth. It has happened before, and it will happen again. It is a condition, place, people and time known as ZION.