Six Week Challenge

Less than a week ago, I posted the following on LDS Progressive Left’s Facebook page:

 I seriously don’t think I can do this any more. We live in Springville UT, and our ward is ultra-conservative. Two of my four children have already left the church, and one refuses to go here in Utah. I seriously want to leave the state. I know I’m not the only one in this group who feels this way. Any suggestiions?

Six days and 72 comments later, I’ve come to three conclusions:

  1.  I’m not alone. (This one is number one for a reason.)
  2. The general consensus is to go inactive or leave altogether, and find a way to worship that more suits my personal needs.
  3. It’s time to take action.

All week I’ve been thinking of a suggestion given to me by a visiting teacher I had thirty years ago, along with some repeated comments given to me twice personally, and once over the pulpit, by my current bishop. The suggestion by my visiting teacher, who has since left the church, came via our bishop who went on to become our stake president, and later, stake patriarch. He told my visiting teacher that he had a daily to-do list that he used as a formula for success:

  • pray
  • read scriptures
  • write in a journal
  • at least one act of service
  • exercise (I added this one).

I was really good at this for several years. It got me through some pretty tough times in my first marriage. I remember the calmness and serenity it brought to my life, and even though I have never been perfect at it, I have always striven to return to those activities when times began to get tough.

Unfortunately, my current bishop’s message came across to me as a litany of items that I must be doing if I were to ever expect to get help from him or to find peace in my home. In fact, not only must I be performing these things, but I felt that I had been held responsible for making sure that my husband and daughter were fulfilling these duties as well, despite the fact that my husband is a convert who has never had a calling other than home teaching since he joined the church nearly seven years ago, and that my  adult daughter has not been active since she was eleven years old. This litany includes daily prayer, daily scriptures, regular temple attendance (or at least preparing names for the temple), weekly Family Home Evening, fulfilling church callings to the best of [our] abilities, regular church attendance, and monthly fulfillment of visiting/home teaching assignments.

micro-2The second time my bishop gave me this list, it came as a text message, and the third time it came as a warning over the pulpit to the entire ward. I have come to the conclusion that although my current bishop is a great micromanager, his message is not much different from my previous bishop’s formula for success. Even though the formula for success is a much shorter, daily application of the litany, it leads directly to success in completing that gigantic to-do list from my current bishop.

I have been ruminating over these similarities as I read each and every comment to my Facebook post. I know my current bishop’s message was well intended, because he can see that activity in the church is not just weekly attendance, but a way of life that will lead us back to God. To me, the difference is pretty clear: the formula is a recipe for success, while the litany comes across a way of living that must be endured in order to get needs met here on earth, and to reach salvation in the end.

Two bible scriptures have come to mind. The first, is Matthew 24: 13: But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Although this quote from Jesus was delivered at the end of his description of the last days, it is often taken out of context in an effort to describe that litany of things that we must strive to do regularly in order to reach perfection. The second, also from Matthew, is a direct quote from Jesus: “Come unto me. all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”
He said it would be easyTwo versus later, and still quoting Jesus, is a well-known verse that flies directly in the face of a Christian meme that has been present in LDS homes long before it became available on the internet. Come on, people, Jesus DID say it would be easy!:

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

Because I’m not perfect, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to church today. I stayed home and watched  “Meet the Mormons” (I like it, and yes, I know it is missionary propoganda), and “God’s Army 2, States of Grace” (And yes, I also know that Richard Dutcher, one of the producers, actually left the church not long after the movie was released). Next, my husband and I did our daily scripture reading. We were reading in First Nephi about Nephi’s rebuke to his brothers when they refused to help him build a ship. Nephi reminded Laman and Lemuel that the Jews rebelled against Moses, too, when they thought that God’s commandment to look at Moses’ staff and be healed was just too easy, so they refused to do it (I Nephi 17: 41). I was once again reminded that God had an easier way to follow him than worrying about completing a big long list of things to be done over and over again each month, in order to reach perfection.

I don’t expect to reach perfection in this life, so I’ve decided to endure to the end in following the former bishop’s formula of success. I’ve been told that it takes six weeks to form a habit, so I am going to focus on rebuilding that old habit that I seem to keep straying from. If I am doing it right, I should be able to fit my callings, temple attendance, and visiting teaching into that fourth daily item: service. There are so many ways to serve, and on days when I am tired or feeling particularly low, I can count giving a smile to a complete stranger as an act of service. Helping others does help me feel better, and it doesn’t take long at all to complete each and every item on the list.

At the end of the six weeks, I will go ahead and take action, depending on what my inclination is. I’ve a feeling that I am going to end up recommitting myself to activity in the church, no matter what people say in church meetings, or even to my face (yes, they do it). The six weeks will be up just before my birthday (October 26). I will keep you posted on my progress, and I will let you know what my final decision is during the week of my birthday. This should be interesting.

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My New Tat–let’s get this conversation started

My New Tat–let’s get this conversation started

There go my hopes of becoming Young Women’s President. But seriously, it’s my first, and only ever, tat (Truthfully, I don’t want to be president of anything). I can’t imagine coming up with a reason to get another one, but to be honest, up until the last few years, I never thought I’d find a good enough reason to get this one. But I did come up with a good reason, and it has a whole lot to do with my recent absence from the blog scene. Come to think of it, it also has a whole lot to do with my recent absences from church too. Mostly though, it has everything to do with suicide.

I first got the idea for the tattoo after I took  my oldest grandchild to live with his father in Utah, and threw my daughter out on the streets. It wasn’t as cold-hearted as it sounds, though. I knew how much it hurt to have her son taken from her arms, and I knew the dangers she would be facing as a homeless female. I was at my wits end, and so was she, and I knew, just as she did, that hitting rock-bottom was a necessary step if she was to ever recover from alcoholism and drug abuse. Just before I helped her pack her bags in my Illinois apartment and board the plane to the streets of Utah where should be near her son, I prayed, I cried, I consulted with her father (my ex-husband), and then she and I talked about her suicidal ideation and the fact that she would need to address it if she were to come out of the upcoming chapter in her life alive. It was tough on everyone involved, and as a mother, I was terrified for the well-being of my only daughter. She was so lucky that the baby’s father was willing to give her the opportunity to have regular contact with her son. I knew that she felt her son would be better off without her in his life at all, but being able to see him regularly helped keep her going.

During my daughter’s tenure on the streets, I discovered Project Semicolon. As a writer and an English teacher, it was pretty easy for me to see the metaphor of myself as the author of a sentence that could have been over by adding a period, yet furthering the idea by adding a semicolon and going on. I thought of those times just before my divorce when I truly felt that dying was preferable to staying in an emotionally abusive marriage. I understood how my daughter felt, so I didn’t even hesitate. I called my daughter and told her, “We have to do this.”

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When she was finally on the path to sobriety, she was quite clear with me about the relationship between childhood molestation, religion, drugs and alcohol, and mental illness–all leading to her suicidal ideation. She was molested by a male cousin mere weeks following my separation from my first husband. This was about the same time that she was baptized, and her attacker was double her age. Although she was coerced, she went for years feeling as if she should have been able to stop the attack, so she told no one. At church she was taught about the importance of sexual purity and chastity, and of course, she was told that only those who were “pure and chaste” could enter into the temple to be married for time and all eternity.  In her young mind, she was doomed. It was no wonder that she frequently begged to go to Relief Society with me, instead of attending her Young Women’s classes. By that time, she had completely given up on herself, and reasoned that since she was already “impure,” she had no reason to keep up the charade. This was about the same time she began to joke about “going to hell,” and started smoking. I began getting regular calls from her school, too. She was skipping classes so she could sleep in after sneaking out at nights (she’d wait until she could hear me snoring–remember, I was a single mom). Of course, her nightly escapades introduced her to drugs and alcohol. She became severely depressed; who wouldn’t after all that? Her family knew what she was up to, and so did all the kids at school and church, so she developed social anxiety as well. She began avoiding everyone but her drinking/drug buddies.  Street drugs, alcohol, and even cigarettes became a sort of treatment for her depression and anxiety; it was a vicious cycle leading to addiction.

Recovery from addiction is an uphill battle, especially when you have no supportive family nearby. By supportive, I mean physically, financially, emotionally, and morally. Alongside my husband, my daughter is my very best friend, but for the past few years she has lived more than 75 miles away from me. Her recovery was spurred by the discovery of her second pregnancy, just months after she’d gotten herself off the streets. Before her baby was six months old, she divorced her new husband who was ardently headed in the opposite direction from her new path.

Being a single mom is never easy, I know that, having done it with four kids over a period of ten years, but she had complicating factors on top of those previously mentioned, including post-traumatic stress, no high school diploma, no car, a part-time job, and ADD exacerbated by drug and alcohol abuse. To make matters worse, she pointed out to me, studies have proven that even marijuana can cause permanent brain damage in adolescents, and who knows what damage has been caused by other drugs?

Despite the fact that she had gone back to high school, and gotten a job and counseling, she fought immense guilt. Day after day, as she struggled to get herself out of bed, put food on the table and diapers on the baby, find time for homework,  make sure her bills were paid, and get her daughter to daycare and herself to work (both without a car),  she heard that little voice in her head screaming, “IF ONLY . . .”

She was drowning in guilt, and I knew she was suicidal. In fact, she told me, she’d have committed suicide months ago, if it hadn’t been for her solid belief that no one would care enough to check in on her if she just didn’t show up for work or answer her phone one day, and that her baby could have been alone in her apartment for days before her mother’s body was discovered. It was devastating for me to contemplate this, but her daughter’s presence was the only thing keeping her alive.

I couldn’t stand watching it any longer, and despite the fact that I am not in the best of financial or living circumstances, I drove to her home (I moved back to Utah after finishing grad school in Chicago, so I could be with my kids and grandkids), and told her to pack up her things. She needed physical and moral support, and I was the only one willing to help; no one else has yet been able to accept that she is serious about giving up her past, including most of the bishops she’s had to deal with. The first thing we did was to get our tattoos.

Tattoos

It was a bit difficult for us to find an open tattoo parlor that looked clean and trustworthy. After all, despite the fact that I am a Democrat, I’m still a good Mormon girl, remember? We settled on Garage, Tattoo in Ogden, Utah. I told Thad, our artist, that we’d give him a shout-out, but more importantly, it’s a place where we were not questioned or harassed because of our religious preference, and Thad was friendly, understanding, and professional. As you can see, he did a great job. My daughter’s tat is on the inside of her wrist, where it is not visible to anyone but herself. It tells that there will be better days, and I hope the fact that it matches mine will remind her that I’ve got her back.

Mine is on top. I chose my quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.”  It’s a bit of good advice from Papa Polonius that I did not follow until well after my divorce, and I am a much happier person now that I am doing things not to impress others or make them happy, but because it is the right choice for me.  It is on the outside facing me, where I see it constantly. I wanted it to be where my daughter could see it constantly as well, and know that no matter what, I’ve got her back.

I’m the ward chorister, so everyone at church can see it if they actually look up from their hymnbook while they are singing. I wanted it to be visible, because I want people to ask me about it. Unfortunately no one at church has, and I was afraid of that. After all, tattoos carry a very strong stigma at church. But I want people to understand how pervasive suicidal ideation is. I want people to know that the way they handle tough situations such as finding out they have a gay member in their ward, or learning that their teen daughter is pregnant, or even just reacting uncomfortably to someone because they are different, can contribute to suicidal ideation. I want everyone to understand that suicidal ideation is actually a normal response when bad situations feel inescapable and when people believe that no one understands, or wants to (especially at church). We have to be ready and willing to listen to another’s story without judgment and with compassion. We have to get beyond that religious stigma telling us that suicidal thoughts come from evil deeds, and we need to learn unconditional acceptance of others who make different choices from our own.

I LOVE having my little granddaughter and both of my best friends in my home.  Things have become a bit crowded and messy, but there’s a lot more love and laughter, and my daughter makes me get out and go on walks with her on a regular basis. She’s getting out of the house when she’s not at work, and I’m getting healthier. Most importantly, she’s got access to the things that are keeping her happy and functioning: people who will listen to her story and love her just as she is.

 

How Dead is the Republican Party?

How Dead is the Republican Party?

They’re still alive enough to be friggin scary!

Approaching Justice

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The fellow liberal who attends the ward that shares the Tropicana Chapel (in Las Vegas) with my ward has updated her bumper stickers. I wrote last July about how her car was a pleasant welcome to Las Vegas after moving from Wyoming.

How can one beat a partisan play on baptisms for the dead…right?

Is the Republican Party really dead?

While their presidential prospects are dim for the near future, the veto by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer of the controversial bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays on religious grounds shows that the business/establishment wing of the party still has some pull. While I am not a fan of the business wing of the GOP, they do play an important role in checking extreme anti-gay measures, as well as checking kooky efforts like trying to ban the United Nations. They are also the pro-immigrant wing of the GOP…

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10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About The Bible

This is exactly what I have been thinking about both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. When you add a variety of translations in there, it gets even more difficult to understand exactly what God wants us to understand. Perhaps that is the reason for God speaking through prophets; he is giving us guidelines to think for ourselves.

john pavlovitz

Young man reading the Bible with bright green backgroundWhenever Christians talk about their faith with other Christians or with non-Christians the Bible is there, either as an overt discussion topic or as part of the background noise in the room. Many followers of Jesus assume that everyone believes everything about the Bible that they believe about the Bible, which makes for some very messy miscommunication and far too many disastrous conversations.

More and more Christians are gradually coming to new conclusions about the Scriptures, or they are finally putting words to things that they believed for years but felt they couldn’t express in the past in their faith communities.

If you’re a Christian, these words may not speak for you entirely (or at all) but they are things that at this stage in my own spiritual journey, I do not believe about the Bible—and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

1) I don’t believe the Bible was dictated by God. The sixty-six books comprising the Bible were composed by flawed, imperfect…

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A Boy and His Sister

The true story of the love of a brother. Told by me (on another blog).

Stories From the Past

Warning: Despite my insistence that this blog is all about graveyards and dead people, it’s really about family history. This story is about part of my family, and it is part of my children’s history, so even though they are still alive to tell this story themselves, I’m going to tell it now to keep it from becoming untold.

My baby boy turns twenty this weekend.  I haven’t been able to get him out of my mind because he lives nearly three hundred miles away. I have been too ill to travel for the last year or so. I’ve been having car problems too. So has Jake. I miss him terribly, but he promises to come and visit soon, and I can’t wait. Yes, this is the story of a boy and his sister. I’m getting to that–I promise.

But first, a little about a boy and his music. I usually begin my day by…

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A Repudiation of Republican Rhetoric

Sorry; I couldn’t resist the temptation to alliterate.

I admit it. I’m pissed. I have encountered way too many mindless memes from my conservative friends recently. (Oops, I did it again!) Most of my conservative friends and family members know to steer clear of political conversations when I am around. They normally keep quiet out of respect for my difference of opinion. But that hasn’t always been the case, and I guess I ask for it by posting so many of my own progressive memes on Facebook. It really is the only place where I feel safe getting up and walking out when the conversation gets heated. I can’t help being vocal, though. I’m a huge Bernie Sanders fan, and I’m excited by his platform. Perhaps that is what led to one of my family members posting this meme today:

I hope that is not the case, but I’m not at all surprised by the rhetoric. I’ve heard it before. The most common comment I’ve heard is that “Liberals are the reason so much is wrong with our country today.” They don’t come right out and say it, but the sentiment is pretty clear: Liberals (AKA progressives) are evil people who should be locked up and kept safe from running our world amok.  Continue reading

About Those Missionaries . . .

About Those Missionaries . . .

I’m socially weird. I meet people on Facebook and become friends with them, rather than making friends and adding them on Facebook. I’ve found many of these friends in group chats and, I admit , I even made several good friends while playing Kingdoms of Camelot. I quit playing after a few months (I was becoming alarmingly obsessed) but I made some good friends and added them to my “collection.”  I never have met most of these friends in person, and I probably never will.

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That’s not to say that all of my Facebook friends came in this fashion, but a large handful of them have. In the past year or so, I have joined a couple of Facebook groups for progressive-minded Mormons. Two or three of my new friends came from these groups. I was a bit flattered, then, that one of these new friends asked to hear my opinion of one of his recent posts.

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My new friend said, Continue reading

another shooting

This was posted by one of my favorite professors when I was an undergrad. This is just another something that I wanted to blog about, but haven’t gotten around to yet. I guess this is the problem with working and trying to manage three blogs. I intend to keep all three though, so I guess reblogs are to be expected.

BJ's Blog

I’ve been thinking about this a lot–especially since my “Frontier” class in the summer. What is the American obsession with guns? Why do we, as a culture, cling so fiercely to our right to carry? How does this right trump the rights of ordinary citizens, students, children, parishioners to go about their lives doing what America promises them: to learn, speak, and worship freely?

My theory: we like the after-effect of a mass shooting. I know that sounds perverse, so let me explain. After a shooting–the killing of innocents–we locate the heroes, the people who sacrificed themselves for others, who took bullets for someone else, who tried to disarm the murderer, who stormed the airplane’s cabin and crashed the jet rather than allow the flight to hit its intended target. We like these stories a lot. I would argue that we like them so much that we’re willing to let mentally…

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