Sunday, June 17, 2018

Temples, Ministering, Inclusion & Healing

I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting on June 17, 2018.  The assigned topic was "Get Ye to the Temple".  It was also Father's Day.   The text of my talk is below:


One of my earliest memories of my father is him dressed in his suit and carrying his little suitcase as he and my mother headed to the temple.   The temple was always important to my father and he demonstrated his love for the temple by his actions and serving within the walls often.   As his health was declining and he wasn’t able to attend church anymore, let alone the temple he realized that his recommend was about to expire and made arrangements for both the bishop and the stake president to come see Dad at home to renew the recommend.  My father’s dedication to the Gospel and the temple have always been an example and inspiration to me. 

I have a somewhat unusual relationship with the temple.  I didn’t get married there.  I wasn’t endowed as a step to a mission or marriage.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  However, I am grateful that when I did choose to receive my temple endowment it was because I wanted to participate in the blessings of the temple.  That was 20 years ago this past April.  I have a deep love for the temple.   I have had many wonderful experiences in the temple.  It blesses my life.

In April General Conference Elder Renlund gives a powerful list of blessings available to those who participate in family history and temple work

"As we participate in family history and temple work today, we also lay claim to "healing" blessings promised by prophets and apostles.  These blessings are breathtakingly amazing because of their scope, specificity and consequences in mortality.  This long list includes these blessings: 
  • Increased understanding of the Savior and His atoning sacrifice;
  • Increased influence of the Holy Ghost to feel strength and direction for our own lives;
  • Increased faith, so that conversion to the Savior becomes deep and abiding;
  • Increased ability and motivation to learn and repent because of an understanding of who we are, where we come from, and a clearer vision of where we are going;
  • Increased refining, sanctifying, and moderating influences in our hearts;
  • Increased joy through an increased ability to feel the love of the Lord;
  • Increased family blessings, no matter our current, past, or future family situation or how imperfect our family tree may be;
  • Increased love and appreciation for ancestors and living relatives, so we no longer feel alone;
  • Increased power to discern that which needs healing and thus, with the Lord’s help, serve others;
  • Increased protection from temptations and the intensifying influence of the adversary; and
  • Increased assistance to mend troubled, broken, or anxious hearts and make the wounded whole.

These are powerful, amazing blessings.  I’d like to focus on a few of them.

Increased faith, so that conversion to the Savior is deep and abiding
Increased joy through increased ability to feel the love of the Lord

To me these go hand in hand.   As I become more converted to Christ and come to know Him more I do feel his love increase in my life.  I feel his love increase for me and for others.   Many years ago as I was struggling to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life I had fasted and prayed over a period of several weeks, maybe longer.  I wasn’t getting clarity on my answer.   I wasn’t ready to confide in anyone other than through prayer.  I felt lost, confused and alone.   I finally got a chance to attend a session in the Provo temple.  As I sat in the Celestial room pouring my heart out, again, in prayer I gazed at the larger than life painting of our Savior on the wall.  I was overwhelmed by the feeling of his love for me.  It was tangible. It was comforting.  I didn’t receive my answer in the temple that day, but I did receive the strength to have faith that the answer would come and it would be the answer that was best for me.

I have often felt his love for me and his absolute ability to heal and support me and those around me.  Not just in this situation, but in the darkest most difficult times in my life.  He gives me peace in the midst of my storms.   I am confident he will do the same for you and as we attend the Temple we will feel this and recognize it even more fully.

As many of you know I am blessed to have a weekly shift on Saturday evenings in the sealing office of the Provo City Center Temple.  This is a highlight of my week.  Because of this I tend to think a lot about the sealing ordinance and the blessings that come from uniting families.  Sometimes this takes a lot of faith too.  Faith that everything will work out to bring families together in the Lord’s timing.  As previously mentioned I was not married in the Temple.  I was never sealed to my former husband and therefore my children are not sealed to me.  Sometimes this is very difficult to think about, but I just need to lean on the Lord and trust in his promises.  I believe that somehow some way I will have the opportunity to experience those blessings and be able to have my children sealed to me.  It is painful to feel like you’re on the outside, like you don’t have a place, like you don’t quite fit.

This leads me to the other promises Elder Renlund referenced in his talk that I’d like to discuss:

  • Increased power to discern that which needs healing and thus, with the Lord’s help, serve others;
  • Increased assistance to mend troubles, broken or anxious hearts and make the wounded whole

I think these also go hand in hand.  

I can best illustrate this by sharing an experience I had earlier this month.   On the first Sunday of June I went to Salt Lake and walked with Mormons Building Bridges in the Pride Parade.   For those who are unfamiliar with Mormons Building Bridges their mission statement begins:

"In accordance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Mormons Building Bridges is a community of Latter-day Saints dedicated to conveying love and acceptance to all who identify as LGBTQI+ and those who experience same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria.  The Mormons Building Bridges community asserts that all our LGBTQI+ sisters and brothers are inherently worthy of love and belonging in our homes, congregations, and communities - no matter where their life path may take them" 

As I lined up I saw many other dressed in Sunday Best holding colorful signs emblazoned with scriptures, messages of love, quotes, and lyrics from hymn and primary songs.   All had shining faces and bright smiles.  As our turn came and we began to walk down the street and I saw all of the people lined up on the side of the road cheering and waving I felt overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude, I felt the Spirit so strongly and the tears began to stream down my face.  A bit later I was able to just soak up the joy of the smiling, cheering crowd and the smiles, waves, and signs of love from my fellow walkers. I also smiled and waved the ASL sign for "I love you" at the crowd.  

Toward the end of the parade route I saw a young lady, probably about 21 or so on the side of the road, she was in the front row of the crowd and she was sobbing.  Without even thinking I stepped out of the group, walked over to her and wrapped my arms around her in a tight embrace.  She clung to me and we cried together as we hugged. She thanked me over and over.  I told her I loved her and I meant it. I could feel the love that Christ has for her too.  This was one of the most deeply moving and spiritual experiences I've ever had.  

I can see this as a parable of temple work.   The crowds alongside the street far outnumbered those of us Mormons walking in the parade.  Just as those who have not had the opportunity to receive the blessings of the temple in their lifetime far outnumber those of us who have.  From my perspective I couldn't tell for sure, but I've heard many times that the Mormons Building Bridges entry gets the biggest cheer from the crowds.  They see hope in us, a glimmer of acceptance where previously they may have felt they didn't belong.  As we think of those waiting to receive these ordinances and blessings, those who don't yet fit in or have a place, but see hope as we unify and go to the temples to create a place for them; wouldn't they be cheering us on as we do family history and attend the temple to perform their sacred ordinances?  

As for the young lady I hugged, I don't know her or her story so I am imagining one, which unfortunately, is all too common.  Perhaps she comes from a very strict family who kicked her out after she came out to them as a member of the LGBTQ community.  Though  Church leaders counsel LDS parents to not do this, it still happens.  I picture this young lady as no longer belonging to her family and feeling ostracized, hopeless and alone.  Maybe not just rejected by her family, but her faith community and, possibly even, in her mind, by extension God.  It may sound melodramatic, but this is a very real experience for too many of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.  When we think of those who have gone before us, who didn't have the opportunity to hear the gospel or participate in the ordinances of the temple.  They are separated from their families and even the full potential of the Celestial Kingdom.  People who are lost and alone, separate, possibly afraid, sad, and hurting.  When we seek out their names and complete their ordinances it  is akin to seeing their tears, stepping out of the crowd and embracing them with love and inclusion.  They will be able to express their gratitude and we will be able to embrace them, show our love and welcome them into our eternal family.  

In November 2017 at a BYU Devotional Elder M. Russell Ballard addressed the issue of LGBT members belonging in the Lord's Kingdom and a call for the rest of us to be more compassionate and welcoming. It is not just out LGBTQ members who sometimes feel like they don't fit in.  I remember feeling despair of not having an eternal family or a worthy priesthood holder in my home; this made attending church incredibly painful when I'd hear other women expressing gratitude for having these blessings.  I even stopped coming to church for a few weeks because it hurt too much. There are some among us who may feel troubled, broken or have anxious hearts due to many factors such as being divorced, single, having a wayward child, or no children, strained family relationships, or being estranged from parents or children, or many other possibilities.  If we can consider inserting each of these circumstances in addition to the specific circumstance Elder Ballard discussed we can see this as more universally applicable.  He was responding to questions and had been asked about what advice he had for LGBT members,  He said:  

"I want everyone who is a member of the Church who is gay or lesbian to know that I believe you have a place in the kingdom and I recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord's Church, but you do.
We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing.  Certainly we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and they have a place to worship and serve the Lord."  

If we substitute any of the previously mentioned circumstances into this model and seek to listen to and understand our brothers and sisters who are hurting and truly minister to them, we are more fully living up to our covenants.  I want to make it clear than I know this was is amazing!  We do this very well.  I have seen so much love and support for one another, but there is always room for improvement.  I know that I can be better at reaching out and ministering to others.  

As we attend the temple and participate in the ordinances there as often as we can according to our individual circumstances and season of life we are in we will find peace and solace within the walls.  As we seek to gain a greater testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ ad increase our capacity to feel his love for us our lives will be greatly enhanced.  We will be able to more fully discern who and what needs healing and more fully minister to and serve them.  We will be able to seek to mend troubles, broken or anxious hearts and work to make the wounded whole as we reach out to the living and the dead.  Especially those who feel left out, unseen, marginalized, or alone.  

I testify that as we do this our lives will be changed, we will be changed.  We will become more like the Savior and be better disciples of Christ, able to love one another as he loves us.  

I testify that Jesus Christ lives.  He suffered for us, he died for us, and he still seeks to help us become more like him.  As we seek the blessings of the temple and the whisperings of the Spirit we will be able to follow him and minister to those he would.  I say this is his sacred name, the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Policy - A Retrospective Two Years Later

Remember, Remember the 5th of November

November 5, 2015 is a day that is seared in my mind and my heart forever.  Now, two years later here is my reflection on that day, and beyond.

I was in my parents’ living room when my oldest daughter (not gay) called me and asked if I’d heard what the Church did now.  I hadn’t heard a thing at that point.  She’s been very antagonistic toward the Church for quite some time, so when she started ranting about the Church and telling me about some new policy I was thinking “there is no way it is that bad” because her M.O. is to vilify the Church, often without direct cause. 

She hung up in frustration and called me back about five minutes later and continued to yell at me about how horrible the Mormon Church was.  I finally asked her what she wanted me to do about it.  She said she wanted me to write a letter to the First Presidency telling them they were stupid, she said she wanted me to go to the Church Office Building and protest, she said she wanted me to go to General Conference and stand up and yell “opposed” and she said that when they excommunicated my youngest son for being gay she wanted me to resign.  I knew I would do none of those things. 

Then I got on Facebook and started seeing all of the posts and the fallout.  I saw and read a copy of the handbook and discovered it was exactly as bad as my daughter had told me it was. 

My heart sank and I was in total disbelief.  How could my church, that I love, that I devoted my life to, decide that my sweet, wonderful, gentle, compassionate, son was worse than someone who abuses their spouse and/or children, worse than someone who is a rapist, worse than someone who attempts to murder others?  Seriously?!?  These people who intentionally inflict tremendous physical and emotional harm MIGHT have a Church Disciplinary Counsel, but my son and so many others MUST have one for loving and committing to a partner!?!?  That didn’t make any sense! It was wrong!! It was horrible!! It was just so darn flat out WRONG!!!

What about the children of mixed orientation marriages (many that happened because Church leaders counseled that getting married to someone of the “acceptable” gender would make the gay go away (which of course it didn’t) and now these marriages had ended in divorce and perhaps one of the parents was in a same-sex relationship or marriage, and the other parent was still very much in the Church wanted to have their children baptized, pass the Sacrament, etc.  and both parents had agreed, but now these children were not eligible (Even after the scrambled “clarification” I realized that this could take an amicable divorce and turn it into a huge, and probably bitter, custody battle.  With the gay parent on one side and the other parent & the Church on the other side with the children in the middle). Whatever happened to “Suffer the children to come unto me?”  How could Christ’s church be pushing children away from him, excluding them for something they have absolutely no choice over? 

I was shocked and upset but still not willing to do the things my daughter had demanded of me. I knew that asking for from the leaders for answers would get me nowhere. 

Instead I went to the Source.  If this was from the Brethren and they speak for God I needed to ask Him. So, with tears streaming down my face, and my heart heavy and breaking, I fell to my knees and pled for understanding.  How could this be from God, this was harsh and cruel.  The God I worship is kind and compassionate and loving, this policy the complete opposite.  “Father, help me understand, this doesn’t feel like you.  This doesn’t feel like Christ. How can this policy be possible?’   

I was blessed with basically an instant answer (which is very rare for me).  I felt immense peace wash over me.  It was like the Lord was telling me not to worry, and He had this, and He was going to make things right according to His divine wisdom and divine timing.  I felt his love for me, for my son, for so many others.  I felt peace, lots of peace. 

A couple of days later was my very first (previously planned) Mama Dragons gathering at the Blue Lemon in Draper and I got to meet several other Mama Dragon for the first time.  Mama Dragons for the first time.  Mama Dragons are amazing women (many LDS) who are mothers of LGBTQ+ who love our children fiercely and will protect them so vehemently that a mama bear metaphor isn’t strong enough, instead we are Mama Dragons and capable of breathing fire on anyone who messes with our children.  (There was plenty of fire breathing going on that night).

I’ll never forget meeting and talking to a sweet woman named Berta, and tears running down her face as she acknowledged she and her wife Kathy were no longer welcome to attend their ward and be a voice in the Church.  They had just moved to a new ward and had planned to go meet the bishop and let him know that they were there and wanted to serve.  Now that was impossible. She told me that since she couldn’t stay and had no voice, but I was allowed to stay, I had a voice.  If I could find it in my heart to stay, that I could be the voice she and so many others no longer can.  She plead with me to be that voice, if I could.  I resolved then, even more firmly than ever to stay.  To show the love, to be the voice for my son, Michael, for Berta & Kathy, for so many other incredible LGBTQ+ people I have met, especially the young people I have met giving hugs as a Bridge Building Mormon Mama Dragon at three Pride festivals (and more to come).   

I resolve to be a voice or love and inclusion.  To be a safe refuge.  To listen to the pain of my LGBTQ+ loved ones.  To be a shoulder to cry on when needed.    To breathe fire when that is needed.   To love and much as I can! 

I still do not like the Policy, not one bit.  I pray every day that it will be rescinded.  I sustain the Brethren, but I feel, to my core, that this policy is not our Heavenly Parents’ ultimate plan or answer for their LGBTQ+ children, or the children of those families.  It just doesn’t fit.  I pray that the leaders of the Church will get more clarity on this issue; that inclusion and love will rise and triumph.  After all, there is precedent, in my lifetime I have seen an excluded, marginalized group of magnificent faithful saints welcomed into the Church. I just hope it doesn’t take as long this time. 

I love the Gospel, I still stay in the Church, I work in the Temple each week and it is a highlight of my life.  I know that not all can stay.  I know that the Temple brings pain to many.  I support these individuals, my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, family members, allies and others that have stepped away from or completely out of the Church over this policy.  That is their path and I respect the agency that allows others to make that choice; as a matter of fact for many I believe this is their best choice, their only choice for mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  It is not my choice, it is not my path.  I still feel the pain in my heart and empathy for the pain in the hearts and souls of so many others over this policy, but I can still seek and find the Peace I did on that first dreadful night. 

Our loving Heavenly Parents and our Savior know and deeply love all of these members of the LGBTQ+ community, their families, friends and allies who are suffering over this.  They will someday, somehow “make this right”

I’m not sure what that means, or how it looks, or when it will happen, but I have a feeling inside my heart that a large part of it needs to be when the rank and file members of the Church are open minded enough with hearts softened enough to welcome Berta & Kathy, Lincoln & Robert, Spencer & Nick and so many other amazing gay couples who love God and love each other and have declared that love by committing to marriage, into our fold without judgement.  Open hearts to accept Michael, Joey, Shaun, Derek, Eve, Victoria, Andy, Chris, Jacob and too many more to count or name in to our midst without reservation, with full love, fellowship and acceptance.  Right now some of these amazing Sons and Daughters of God no longer even have a desire to be in our midst, the rejection has been too complete, too long, the pain too deep.  This is our loss.  We can do better, we must do better.  My heart tells me this so strongly.

So I stay, I am part of this church, just as much as the leaders are,  just as much as my ward members who may or may not be struggling with this like I am are.  I need to and I will make my presence felt on the pews, my voice heard over the pulpit (as it has been two or three times in the past two years) and speak up in classes.  I will honor my covenants to the best of my ability including to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  There is still much mourning, there are still many desperately in need of comfort.

So I stay, I pray this policy will end.  I put my trust in God and I love as loud as I can! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Be Ambitious for Christ-like Love

I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting on January 22, 2017. The assigned topic was "Be Ambitious for Christ" a talk by Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita of the Seventy during the October General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spent a lot of time in contemplation and prayer in the preparation of the talk. I am pleased with the outcome. It is an important message that needs to get out to the Church and the world.

To be Ambitious for Christ is a powerful idea.  If we look at synonyms, we can say we are Enthusiastic for Christ, Committed for Christ, Energetic for Christ or Purposeful for Christ.  These are marvelous ideas to aspire to in our lives, particularly as we seek to spread the good news of His gospel.  Ambitious has another meaning as well, to have a desire to reach a particular goal.  Because we have been taught to become Christ-like, it could be said we are Ambitious to be as Christ and they only way to accomplish this is to be Ambitious in Christ.  To follow him and allow him to change us so we can become like he is.  
In his Conference talk Elder Yamashita gives an example of Alma the younger as a man who was ambitious for Christ.  A man who was a mighty missionary and leader, a man who sought the Lord’s direction and blessed those he served with.  We know Alma was not always a man who was ambitious for Christ, quite the opposite in fact.   The conversion of Alma the Younger is one of my favorites in all of scripture.  I love the contrast in that beautiful chiasmus in Alma 36 when the realization of his actions cause him so much pain and inexpressible horror he literally wants to cease to exist, then, after finding that hope in Christ, the chance for the Atonement to work in his life, that he can actually be ambitious in Christ, the joy he feels exceeds the pain and despair he felt.   I doubt many of us have felt these drastic conflicting emotions to the extent Alma did, but I think we can relate some of our experiences.  

One of the other reasons I love this story so much comes from Mosiah 27 when the angel tells Alma and his companions, the sons of Mosiah,  that he is there as an answer to the prayers of Alma the Elder.   I am sure that Alma’s mother also offered many prayers, as did Mosiah, his wife, and other family and friends.  I am sure they were ambitious in their prayers and hopeful in Christ to help these wayward children.

As we know we are to liken the scriptures unto us so let’s look at the story of Alma as if it happened today.  As the son of the prophet I’m sure Alma attended primary and later Young Men’s.  We don’t know Alma’s age, but the account of his visit from the angel refers to him as a “man” so let’s imagine he has been ordained to all the offices of the Aaronic priesthood.  He’s passed the sacrament and been home teaching with his father.  We haven’t been given a reason why he distanced himself and became among the unbelievers.  We do know he left the church.

What are some reasons people leave the Church today?  I personally know people who have left the Church for various reasons.  Some who felt that they had been deceived with a lack of transparency about certain aspects of Church History such as multiple accounts of the First Vision and the implementation of polygamy.   Some who feel that women are not respected enough or given enough leadership within the Church, including the Priesthood.  Some who find that the scriptures lack credibility based on science, especially archaeology.

One of the biggest reasons I have seen in recent years is the doctrine and policies regarding same sex marriage and people who are LGBT.  One young man who grew up in the Church, attended Young Men’s and graduated from seminary and considered a mission before he came out as gay at age 20 told me “You can’t be gay and Mormon”  Since he didn’t make a conscious choice to be gay he made a conscious choice to leave the Church.  Others have left not because they identify as LGBT, but because they support loved ones who do and have left in solidarity of them because they feel the policies are harsh and excluding   Though it is a difficult decision for many, the pain of staying exceeds the pain of stepping away.  These are good, kind, compassionate people.   How can we reach out and help them find joy that exceeds their pain?  

Are these, and other reasons for people leaving the Church valid?  Of course they are, for the person in enough inner pain and turmoil that they step away from something that was once such an important part of their lives.  It is not a decision many people take lightly.  Are these reasons true for all of us?  No.  I feel like I am respected and valued as a woman in the Church, I don’t aspire to be ordained to the Priesthood.  I know people who are same gender attracted: gay men and lesbian women who are in the Church, who hold callings and serve as ordinance workers in the Temple, for these people staying brings joy.  We all have different experiences and handle a “crisis of faith” in different ways.  We have been counseled to not judge those who experience things or choose differently than we do.   To assume people leave the church because they “want to sin” is very limiting and largely untrue.

About 20 years ago I attended church each week with my five young children. We were in a new ward that was huge and I didn’t really know anyone.  My youngest had just turned 2 and would start to cry when I tried to drop her off in nursery and the nursery leader told me I needed to stay with her.  So I didn’t even get to meet other ward members in Sunday School or Relief Society.  My husband had no desire to attend church with us and was unsupportive of things like family prayer, scripture study and Family Home Evening.   To go to church each week and feel alone and overwhelmed and hear woman after woman each week get up and express gratitude for their righteous husband who honored his Priesthood and lead their family accordingly became too overwhelming and difficult for me.  I stopped attending church.   I didn’t lose my testimony, I still believed, I just didn’t have the emotional stamina to keep going.  Fortunately my child of about seven years old was Ambitious for Christ and got himself up and ready for church and walked alone, down a dangerous road because he wanted to go to church, even if it meant he was going alone.  After a few weeks I decided that if he could do it, I needed to do it.  He didn’t ever reproach me for not going to church, he just set a powerful example, and continued to love me

I’ve mentioned  just a few reasons people leave the Church today.  How do we react to our family members who leave, our friends, our ward members who step away?  How did the people in Alma’s life react?  We know his father kept praying for him.  I’m sure his former Young Men’s leaders did too. His Bishop and Home Teachers must have, as well and some of the other members of the ward.   Alma didn’t just leave the Church, he sought to destroy it.   He maybe seemed like a lost cause.  Do you know anyone in your life who seems like a “lost cause”?  Fortunately, the Lord is endlessly loving and patient and he answers our prayers just as he answered the prayers of the people in Alma’s life.  Because of the Atonement of Christ  no one is ever a “lost cause”

Let’s imagine Alma as a member of our ward.  We watched him grow up, we saw him participate in the primary program, perhaps we heard him give a talk in church.  Then we saw him rebel and maybe our heart hurt for his family.  Maybe we joined them in praying for him.  Or, because we are imperfect, maybe we thought he was awful and wanted him to stay away from our kids and not corrupt them.   Then, one day we heard he was in a coma. Maybe we prayed for him, maybe we took dinner to his family as they waited for him to wake up.  Then he did wake up.  He told a remarkable story about seeing an angel and wanting to come back to church.  How is that news received?  Are we joyful, relieved, skeptical?   All of the above?  

As Alma and his friends stepped into the chapel following months or perhaps years of open rebellion are we ambitious enough for Christ, are we ambitious enough in Christ to welcome them back with open arms, to love them unconditionally? To give them the opportunity to feel at peace in our midst? To refrain from judging them for past behaviors?   To support them in allowing the Atonement to work miracles for them as we want it to for us?

It is important to realize that when Alma was in torment over his sins and behavior that the only one judging him, the only one who was able to bring him to the realization he needed to change was himself!    Imagine seeing posts on Facebook or tweets about this guy Alma and his buddies going around breaking the law and persecuting Mormons, doing their best to entice people away from God; then a few years later at General Conference there he is, not outside the Conference Center protesting, but inside being presented for a sustaining vote as a Prophet.  Could you sustain him?   Could you release the judgement you had of his past behavior?  The members in his day did.  They were Ambitious for Christ.   Is it hard to look past some behaviors?  Yes.  Is it possible?  Absolutely.   With God we can do all things.   

I know a man who had spent years out of the Church, he abused his wife and children, especially verbally and emotionally, refused to allow home teachers come over, didn’t let his children be baptized at age 8 and for a period of a few months even forbid his family from attending any church meetings, though his wife was a Sunday School teacher and his children wanted to attend Young Men’s and Young Women’s activities with their friends.   Then he had an experience that was similar to Alma in that it was a mighty change of heart, a complete 180 degree turn.  Though many in the ward didn’t know much of what was going on behind the closed doors for the family, they knew he had been inactive  since the family had been in the ward.   The ward members welcomed him back with warmth and friendship, letting go of the judgment.  Unfortunately this man, unlike Alma, didn’t sustain his activity and membership in the church and has returned to old, and even worse behaviors.  That is between him and the Lord.  The way a person uses their agency is not our business.  Our business is to be Ambitious for Christ and love them and welcome them and give them every opportunity to feel safe in our midst and want to stay.   

Of course an experience as dramatic as Alma’s is rare.  Most people that leave the Church and come back or consider coming back likely haven’t seen an angel. Perhaps the desire to return to the fold is more tentative.  Even more reason for us to be Ambitious in Christ and welcome people back into our midst.  

Missionary work is important.  Reaching people who are don’t know the gospel is important.  If we can find people to introduce to the gospel and help bring them to church that is marvelous and I think we should be open to these experiences.  If you’re like me though, it is highly likely that most missionary experiences will come from helping those who have left, feel the love we have for them, to feel safe and welcomed in our midst.  

I know an individual who spent years feeling isolated in church and in their youth left for decades.  Then after coming out as transgender she decided to once again attend church.  She had a wonderful ward who knew how to be Ambitious for Christ and allowed her to feel safe, supported and loved in their midst, even supporting her singing bass in the ward choir.  That ward would have welcomed Alma back with open arms.  She’s now in a different ward who is not welcoming, where she does not feel safe and she is so discouraged she is considering finding another church where she can still worship Christ, but feel safe and supported in doing so.  Her testimony has not changed, but I can not blame her from not wanting to be in a place she feels ostracized.  

Let us be the safe ward, let us be the people who allow unconditional love to be our first focus.  Let us be Ambitious for Christ and all of his brothers and sisters who are seeking a place to feel connected to him.  

As we are Ambitious for Christ we need to follow his commandments.  The resurrected Savior instructs Peter that a way to show love for Christ is to feed his sheep.  The same counsel can apply to us. How can we feed the sheep who have left the fold?  Don’t we need to rescue them first?   The hymn Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd teaches this beautifully.  

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd,
Dear are the lambs of his fold;
Some from the pasture are straying,
Hungry and helpless and cold.
See, the Good Shepherd is seeking,
Seeking the lambs that are lost,
Bringing them back with rejoicing,
Saved at such infinite cost.

Dear to the heart of the Shepherd,
Dear are the “ninety and nine”;
Dear are the sheep that have wandered
Out in the desert to pine.
Hark! He is earnestly calling,
Tenderly pleading today:
“Will ye not seek for my lost ones,
Off from my shelter astray”

Out in the desert they wander
Hungry and helpless and cold;
Off to the rescue he hastens
Bringing them back to the fold.

Green are the pastures inviting;
Sweet are the waters and still.
Lord, we will answer thee gladly,
“Yes, blessed Master we will!
Make us thy true under-shepherds;
Give us a love that is deep.
Send us out into the desert,
Seeking thy wandering sheep.”

Out in the desert they wander
Hungry and helpless and cold;
Off to the rescue we’ll hasten
Bringing them back to the fold.

What an amazing blessing to be given the opportunity to join with him in rescuing his sheep, bringing them back to the fold and feeding them.  Perhaps the best food we can offer all of his sheep with whom we come into contact is the fruit from the Tree of Life.  That love of God. Charity, the pure love of Christ that doesn’t envy, isn’t selfish, seeks the good in others and the world rather than evil, rejoices in truth.  Charity has faith and hope, endurance and never fails.  

When we seek to be Ambitious for Christ we must seek to be possessed of Charity, to have it become a part of us, who we are.  We do not need to agree with everything others say or do, but we must love them.  We are commanded to love others as Christ loved us.  Consider what a powerful love that truly is. Our Savior, Jesus Christ loved every person on this earth enough to suffer all sins, sorrows, pains, and experience torment more than we can possibly imagine or comprehend to atone for each one of us.  We all need this atonement, though we may not be as Alma, the vilest of sinners, we are all sinners and all need the atoning power of Christ.  He loved us enough to give us this marvelous miraculous blessing.  In return he asks us to love God, love others, and to feed his sheep.  

With such an example how can we possibly do anything but reach out to those in pain, those who have wandered, those who feel lost, or broken, or in despair?  To love these precious brothers and sisters.  

Though it is definitely a worthy mission and goal to bring people to the Church, and even back to the Church, that should not be our only purpose.  Charity, the pure love of Christ is not the means to the end.  It is the end!   It is the purpose.  It is the goal.  When Lehi arrived at the Tree of Life, to the love of Christ, that is what he wanted for his family, not that they all passively show up to meetings every week, but that they experience and rejoice in the Love of God.  

Brothers and Sisters as we go forth to seek the power of the Atonement in our lives to be ambitious for Christ, to help gather his sheep into His fold, into His arms and into His pure transforming love, we need to just show that charity, that love to all.  It is not always easy, but with God all things are possible.

I love you, I love my family members and friends who are lost wandering sheep, I love my Heavenly Parents and my Savior and I feel their love for me.  May we all feel that love and may we all seek to share it by loving others unconditionally as we are truly ambitious in Christ .

Copyright - Lisa Kimberly Knapp

  January 2017  

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sharing My Heart - I Am Here for You

I have been writing and editing this in my mind for a week, now it is time to share.

When I first heard the about the update in the LDS Church handbook in relation to gay marriage being classified as apostasy and the children of couples in a same-gender marriage being required to wait until age 18 for baptism and full participation in other church activities I felt disbelief, confusion, and hurt.

I realized that so many of my brothers and sisters are in deep pain and feel marginalized, unwanted and ostracized, and other things I cannot possibly begin to imagine.  There are people in my life that I love deeply who identify LGBTQ+ and others who are allies.  This includes family members and dear friends I’ve known for years, and friends I have come to know and cherish more recently.  Many of them are truly hurting. Among those suffering are people in the LGBTQ+ community and allies I have never met.  All are my brothers and sisters, all are of value.  All are Children of God. 
They. Are. In. Pain.
Deep searing pain. 
Can’t catch your breath pain.
Drowning in hopelessness and despair pain. 
Possibly even the pain that could lead to the unthinkable, desperate decision to end a life in suicide. 

What can I do in this situation?  What should I do? 

Let’s begin with what I will not do.  I am not going to go to Church leaders and demand answers.  I am not going to protest and vilify and fuel hatred. I am not going to quit or resign my membership.  That is not the answer; that is not my answer.  I have gone to the source, to my Father in the sacred name of my Savior and humbly shared my hurt and confusion and sincerely asked for understanding, for peace.  It is coming.  I still don’t understand, but I am feeling a bit more peace.  I will continue to seek more from this Pure Source.

I am going to stay true to myself, true to my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am staying in my Church; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is so deeply a part of me.  I am staying true to my covenants in that church. Covenants that include mourning with those that mourn and comforting those that stand in need of comfort.   This is my answer, this is my path, and this is what I need to and will do.

I will love.  I will advocate for kindness and patience and behaving as Christ would.  I will sit in the pews each week and invite anyone who wants to sit with me to do so and welcome you with open arms.  I will even move out of “my” pew, my comfort zone in the chapel and sit with you if you need me to.  I will pray for your pain to ease.  I will be a shoulder to cry on and a friend to cry with.  I will be as Christ-like as I can.  I will fail at times, because I am a flawed, imperfect human-being, but when I fail I will try to pick up and start over and truly try to be the best I can to be there for those who need a friend, a hug and love. 

If you are an ally or identify as LGBTQ+ (whether you’re out or not) please know I am safe to reach out to.  I am safe to come out to (if you feel comfortable doing so).  I promise to do my very best to love you and mourn with you and comfort you.  I know I will never fully understand your pain, your journey and your deepest heart, but I truly believe that Jesus Christ does.  I will try to listen and empathize and help you the very best I know how, and will keep trying to learn more and improve in this ability.  I believe in Christ and kindness and love.  I hope you will allow me to share with you.  You are welcomed with my open arms, as I strive to be an extension of His arms.  

To all who are in pain over this issue (or any other) please, please, please know that
You. Are. Loved! 

Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Isaiah 49:15-16 (see also 1 Nephi 21:14-16) 

I also want to share the lyric to one of my favorite hymns:

  1. Where can I turn for peace?
    Where is my solace
    When other sources cease to make me whole?
    When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
    I draw myself apart,
    Searching my soul?
Where, when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.

  1. He answers privately,
    Reaches my reaching
    In my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
    Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
    Constant he is and kind,
    Love without end.
I testify that Jesus Christ is the source you can turn to for peace, no matter what is causing your wounded heart, or your aching, when you have no where else to go. He does have a quiet hand to calm your anguish and he truly is the one who can fully understand.  He is your friend. He is constant and kind and he truly does love you with no end!