Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Utah Mormons Need the Church Too!

I sat by myself in Relief Society for my first two Sundays in Utah. I didn't understand why people weren't more friendly and welcoming. After a month we finally cornered the Bishop at church to let him know we had moved into the ward. It still took another 2 weeks, and a few gentle reminders, before they read our names over the pulpit to welcome us to the congregation. 

Utah has not been welcoming to us. A handful of neighbors have introduced themselves, and then some proceeded to tell us about the families that lived in the houses surrounding us. Sure enough they pointed out which houses contained inactives or nonmembers. Some even went so far as to tell us the alleged reasons why the families were inactive. 

The Bishopric came to our home to get to know us. Before leaving they asked the traditional, "Is there anything we can do for you?" Instead of replying with the traditional (and expected), "no, we're great!" I was brave and told them that the ward hasn't been very welcoming and we were having a hard time getting to know people. The response I got could be summarized as, "That's just the way Utah is." 

It wasn't just a one time response. When there were only a handful of women at my first Relief Society activity, the Relief Society President explained that it was just the way Utah is. Several sisters supported her in the idea. They said that being surrounded by LDS people on a daily basis you just don't feel the same need to get together like you do outside of Utah. 

It didn't sit right with me. I pondered on it for several days. The New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants both describe Saints gathering together and the importance thereof. The modern design of the Church encourages Saints to gather together to uplift one another through service, lessons, and activities. So why is it that these Utah Saints don't feel the need to get together? Does the sheer number of Saints lead them to take Church programs for granted? 

I need Relief Society. It doesn't matter how many LDS or non-LDS people I associate with on a daily basis. I need a periodic gathering of my fellow sisters in the Gospel. I need a time and event set apart from my day-to-day life where I can go and be edified and uplifted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I am sad for my Utah sisters who feel that they do not need these things in their life. I am sad for my Utah sisters who have lost the vision of Relief Society. I am sad for the members of my congregation who have been left ignored and unfriended like myself. I am sad for the people who have been driven away due to the lack of acceptance and welcoming from others. I am sad for my neighbors who are inactive or not members that carry a scarlet letter for it. 

This is not the Utah I want to live in.

It wasn't just this one ward either. We've been in other wards in Utah. Some more welcoming than others, but none who embrace the programs of the Church like they do outside of "The Mormon Belt." You know, the wards where you feel like you are a family. 

I revel in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I love it, I crave it, and I cling to it. Jesus has said "if ye are not one ye are not mine." I believe in visiting teaching. The real kind where you love, lift, and serve women and do your best to take care of them as the Lord would. I believe in Relief Society, an organization that I can utilize to bolster my faith, strengthen my home and family, and provide service to others. I believe in a ward family where I anyone can go and feel love and accepted exactly as they are with no expectations of immediate perfection or exemplary faith. I believe in Gospel that creates unity among people where saints and sinners are one and the same. 

This is the Utah I want. This is the Church I want. 

Where do you even begin to make that kind of change? The only thing I can do is to be the change I wish to see and call on others to do the same. 

Do you feel outcast by your ward? Do you feel as though you don't fit in? Do you crave something more from the Church? 

Be the change. It will make a difference to someone. It would make a difference to me. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What to do when friends or family leave the Church...

Tell them they are wrong.

Argue with them.

Shun them.

Avoid them.

Don't let my kids play with theirs.

Belittle them.

Turn them into a project.

Love them.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

"We Need Women" General Conference Printable

I don't know about you, but I loved President Nelson's talk from General Conference last weekend. He talked about the kind of women that the world needs. I made this printable so I could hang it on my mirror like a positive affirmation to read each day. This is the kind of woman I want to be.

Click HERE for the PDF were you can print this for yourself!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How To Actually Repent: The 12 Steps of Repentance

Repentance is re-aligning yourself with God.

Sometimes we look at repentance as simply wiping out a sin. A quick "I'm sorry" to God will do. But repentance can be so much more than that. Repentance is using our agency to align ourselves with God. Because we are flawed mortal beings we need constant re-alignment. The repentance process is less about a quick "I'm sorry" to God and more about seeking to better ourselves on our eternal quest to seek after God. 

One of the most important things we can do in our lives is to learn how to truly repent and teach it to others. True repentance is powerful. It provides any willing heart the power to access the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and truly change for the better. 

I hope you will indulge me as I share what I have come to know as the 12 steps to repentance, based on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program as well as the LDS version in the Addiction Recovery Program. As you will see, these steps apply to every individual who seeks to reconcile themselves with God and align their lives to His will.

Step 1: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless and imperfect.

This step involves humbling ourselves and admitting that we have numerous flaws and imperfections that keep us from God. This isn't about any specific sin or circumstance, but rather a general humbling where we are willing to figure out where we are weak and where we need improvement.

Step 2: Come to know that the power of God and the Atonement of Jesus Christ can change you and restore you to complete spiritual health.

Study the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Learn about His mission, His life, and His ability to help you heal and change you. You can't have faith in something you don't know about. Sometimes we need to renew our knowledge and faith.

I love this quote from Elder James E. Faust because it teaches us that no matter where you are in your knowledge and testimony of the Atonement, there is still more to learn.
"My reason for wanting to learn all I can about the Atonement is partly selfish: Our salvation depends on believing in and accepting the Atonement. 1Such acceptance requires a continual effort to understand it more fully. The Atonement advances our mortal course of learning by making it possible for our natures to become perfect. All of us have sinned and need to repent to fully pay our part of the debt. When we sincerely repent, the Savior’s magnificent Atonement pays the rest of that debt. Any increase in our understanding of His atoning sacrifice draws us closer to Him. Literally, the Atonement means to be “at one” with Him." 
               - James E Faust Nov 2001 “The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope”)
Step 3: Decide to turn your will over to God and His son, Jesus Christ. 

This sounds so simple, and yet it is so hard to actually put into action. It takes a conscious effort to makes the changes needed in our lives to truly repent and align ourselves with God. This is your moment to make that conscious effort and truly ready yourself to turn your will over to God. As you repeat these steps over and over in your life this step will have more and deeper meaning as each time you more fully give your will to God. Our agency is the only thing that is truly ours. To give that back to God is the greatest gift we can give. 

Step 4: Make an inventory of the things in your life that are keeping you from God. 

Here is where you list out your sins and shortcomings. I like to think of this as cleaning out your attic. When you first start there are a bunch of boxes and dirt up in your attic. So, you organize them, get rid of some stuff, and sweep the floor, and feel proud of all you've accomplished. As you repeat the steps of repentance over and over you keep coming back to the attic and seeing there is more you can do. With each cleaning you see more you can get rid of and more you can clean. Even once it is empty you find that, as with all attics, dust and cobwebs accumulate and must be swept out and taken care of on a regular basis. As we repeat the steps of repentance over and over in our lives we will one day end up with a sparkling clean attic that we've spent a lifetime cleaning. This is much better than simply accumulating a lifetime's worth of junk up there. We will use this attic analogy in some of the other steps. 

Step 5: Admit to Heavenly Father the exact nature of your wrongs. 

This is the moment where you humbly kneel before your maker and confess all those things from your inventory. If necessary, you also confess those sins to someone else like appropriate Priesthood Authority. Priesthood Authority is necessary when a sin is so serious that guidance is needed to work through the issue. Think of this as a box in the attic that is too heavy to carry alone. 

Step 6: Become ready to have God remove your weaknesses.

Once again, this is easier said than done. There are a lot of weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings in our life that we like to hold on to. Are you really ready to let them go? Think about those boxes in the attic. Even though we know the boxes are doing us no good in there, it can still be hard to get rid of them. This is entirely a mental exercise, but a necessary to step that can take some time. As we repeat these steps we can see the improvements in our life that have come from giving up these weaknesses and it can become easier to let go of the weaknesses we carry with us. 

Step 7: Ask God to remove your weaknesses and make up for your shortcomings.

We've already found in Step 1 that we are nothing compared to God. No matter how hard we try, we all fall short of the glory of God. We need his help. A humble prayer of supplication for God's help in our lives is all that is necessary here, but it can be a powerful moment in our lives as we connect with our Father in Heaven. 

Step 8: Make a list of people you have harmed, or steps you need to take to reconcile yourself.

Just like our inventory in Step 4, it's time to make a list of the people we've harmed. Perhaps you have harmed no one and simply need to take corrective measures in your life. It's time to list them out and figure out exactly where you need to go from here. If you've been gossiping about someone, the person you've gossiped about should be on the list as well as all those you've told the gossip to. If you've been neglecting personal scripture study this would be the time where you list out a plan of action to make daily scripture study a part of your life. 

Step 9: Make restitution to those you have harmed or take action to correct your wrongs. 

Now is the time to take that list from Step 8 and do something about it. This is where you get to right your wrongs and take the necessary steps to improve your life and re-align yourself with God. This step requires complete humility. You cannot repent without this step. This is where you change and strive to be better.

Step 10: Continue to take inventory of your life, and when you are wrong promptly admit it. 

Repentance is a constant process in our lives. These steps should be repeated continually. If we want forward progression on our eternal journey then we better start walking. These steps propel us forward. 

Step 11: Seek through prayer to know the will of God for your life and to have the power to carry it out. 

If we want to align ourselves with God then we need to stay in contact with him. At this point, you've cleaned up some of the problems in your life. You are closer to the spirit and have your eye on God. Now is the time to ask Him how He wants you to move forward and what He wants you to do in life. Keep in contact.  

Step 12: Bear witness of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 

This step is special. I believe it is a requirement of true repentance. After experiencing true change in our life and seeing the power of the Atonement in action, we need to share it with others. This step is perhaps the easiest of them all. After experiencing such power in your life, it is nearly impossible to keep it to yourself. You will find yourself naturally testifying of the Savior and His miraculous ability to save. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

5 Things to Stop Doing When Teaching About The Law of Chastity

1. Stop Shaming

The design of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to invite people to repentance. Shame is already so devastating and prevalent in the world of sexual sin that we don't need to pile anymore on. Shame is a powerful tool used by Satan to keep people from repenting. Lessons on the Law of Chastity should focus on hope and change through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 

Examples of shaming include focusing on how bad sexual sin is instead of teaching how to repent from it. Emphasizing the negative impacts of sexual sin creates an environment of shame. Teaching someone why they should do something with threats of consequences isn't a great teaching method. You can certainly mention the negative effects of sin, but the focus should always be on repentance and the Atonement. Hopeful lessons point others to Jesus Christ. Shaming lessons focused on threats and negativity point people the opposite way. 

2. Don't Make Assumptions

Assuming that no one in the room has a problem is a problem in and of itself. Guess what? The Law of Chastity applies to everyone equally to men and women, young and old. Everyone has room for improvement, and a significant majority percentage of church members have active struggle with pornography, masturbation, body shame, sexual temptations, lusting, inappropriate thoughts, adultery, and a whole host of other issues that fall under the category of the Law of Chastity. 

Often people avoid talking about difficult subjects by talking about teaching it to their children rather than talking about how to apply it for themselves. If we are not keeping the Law of Chastity ourselves how can we ever hope to deal with the extremely difficult challenges they face? You have to stop assuming that no one is struggling because statistics, Bishops, and Stake Presidents can all tell you that the problem is at plague-like levels. Repentance is for everyone in the room!

3. Stop Making Lists

I'm making a list right now so I see the irony here.  Making lists of dos and don'ts, blessings and curses is ridiculous. Yes, we need to explain what is appropriate and inappropriate, but if it becomes the focus of the lesson then we have a problem. You can have sex with your one and only and live a chaste and virtuous life and still end up on the "curse" list with an STD due to a struggling spouse. The lists hurt people. They see themselves on the wrong side and are filled with shame. Is that how you want people to feel during your lesson? We have all made mistakes. Bringing it up over and over isn't how God works. Repent and He will remember the sin no more. Lists make us look at ourselves in terms of black and white, good and bad. The Law of Chastity is black and white, yes, but we as human beings are mold-able, changeable, and are working towards bettering ourselves. We have to stop defining ourselves by lists and rather let us define ourselves by who we seek to become. The purpose of the Law of Chastity is to bring us joy. 

4. Stop Avoiding the Word Sex 

It's cute that you know a dozen words to describe sex that you think are more appropriate for church like "intimacy" and "relations." Call it exactly what it is and stop dancing around the issue. It is called sex and it is wonderful and beautiful. Learn the difference between sex and intimacy. It's not the same thing! We need to call things exactly what they are. Sex is sex. I give you permission to use the word masturbation too. If you have to stand in front of the mirror and say the words out loud a hundred times before you teach the lesson, then do it! Sex, masturbation, pornography, penis, vagina, breasts, naked, fallopian tube....okay, so maybe you won't use the last few in a lesson on the Law of Chastity, but let's get real here. Be brave. Use the big girl words. 

5. Stop Using Chastity as a Word for Sex

Sex should not be used synonymously with the word chastity. The Law of Chastity involves a whole lot more than just sex. You can live a chaste life and have sex every day. You can have sex every day and never experience intimacy. You can never have sex with someone in your life and still be breaking the Law of Chastity. If we keep mixing up the word chastity and sex then we are sending a horrible message. You need to keep the Law of Chastity which means don't have sex so then what happens when you do have sex? Guilt? Shame? Ahhhhh! The Law of Chastity is so much more than just not having sex. It is about learning to master the natural urges of our bodies. It is about keeping sacred covenants with another person. It is about the sacredness of the sexual experience. Sex is something that is good, pure, and holy. The Law of Chastity helps us find something special in the sexual experience and empowers us as creators and partners in an eternal journey. The Law of Chastity brings us joy. 

Hopefully at some point lessons on the Law of Chastity will be as open and freely discussed as any other lesson. I'm tired of women skipping church or leaving the room when there is a lesson on chastity because they fear what hurtful things people will say. Women should not feel pain in Relief Society. They should feel relief! We are a sisterhood, and a powerful one at that. We should stand united on the Law of Chastity, helping those that stand in need of help, comforting those that stand in need of comfort, and inviting all to experience the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Just imagine what a powerful force we could be!

You may also like these articles:

How to Actually Repent: The 12 Steps of Repentance

4 Things You Can Do Right Now to Battle Pornography In Your Home

50 Shades of Shame: LDS Women and Their Pornography