Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dear Utahn: Love, Your Inactive Neighbor

This is a guest post written by a wonderful woman who just so happens to be inactive LDS living in Utah. Her experience is raw and true to the experience of many inactive and non-LDS people living in Utah. Please give love, support, and great thought to her powerful letter.  

Dear LDS Neighbor,

I am inactive LDS. This does not mean that I am lost. I did not fall away from the church. I left it. I am not wandering, I am simply on a different path than you. I'm not saying which path is better because I believe that nearly any path in this life can lead to extreme happiness. Being inactive does not mean that I am an alcoholic, covered in tattoos, a drug addict, or bad person. Stop treating me like one. You have damaged me for long enough, and it needs to stop. I simply don't go to church on Sunday.

I have no intention of convincing you or your children to stop going to church. I'm not going to offer you alcohol, or try and tell your kids things contrary to what you have taught them. That would be rude and inconsiderate, and I am neither of those things. Please let my children be friends with yours. There is no need for children of any age or religion to believe that other children are inferior. Please stop interfering with friendships between kids who are innocent and loving.

Please, don't try to convince me to go to church. If I want to go back to church, I will go. I know where it is. I would love to be included in neighborhood events, and even invited to ward activities. I'm not going to cause a scene or be inappropriate, I just want to be included. Quite frankly, being inactive can be lonely when no one will talk to you simply because you spend all day on Sunday with your family instead of going to church.

Don't spread rumors about me. If you haven't heard it from me, and you're telling someone else, then you're gossiping. If you want to know why I don't go to church, become my friend, and ask me. I'm not going to gossip about you.

Ultimately, I don't need you to save me. I just need you to be a good neighbor and friend. The only difference between us is three hours on Sunday.

With Love and Respect,

Your Inactive Neighbor

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Modesty: So Much More Than A Hemline

Modesty is a hot topic in the LDS culture. On any given Sunday, in any given ward in the United States (and I'm sure many other countries) you will spot a female with a skirt several inches above the knee, someone in a sleeveless top, someone with cleavage showing, or someone's underwear line showing. Shoot, on any given Sunday you could probably end up seeing up some poor girl's skirt because of the way she is sitting. 

There is no official modesty police at church, though there never seems to be a shortage of people willing to mentally police their ward.

We have plenty in our LDS culture who are "slut shamers." There are both men and women who hold the immodestly dressed responsible for eliciting the sexual thoughts and behaviors of others, sometimes going so far as to claim "she's asking for it." For what exactly? Sex? Well, certainly prostitutes are asking for sex by the way they are dressed. In fact, plenty of women out on the town on a Friday night are asking for the same thing. Yes, they want to have sex. Try not to be shocked. But the 13 year old at church with a skirt 3 inches above her knee? Probably not. For the record, slut shaming is rarely effective in teaching principles of modesty. Men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions. To say that women are responsible for a man's sexually elicit thoughts contributes to a rape culture that degrades women and blames them for situations that are beyond their control. Immodesty has consequences and you can point them out (as in men may have sexual thoughts about you when you dress sexually), but you are not responsible for anyone's sins but your own.

Sometimes in the LDS culture our teenage girls and even our adult women fall into at least a similar category. Perhaps they aren't asking for actual sex, but they are certainly asking for attention. They dress to enhance their sexual characteristics, drawing attention to their breasts or butts to attract men. We have a natural desire to be loved and admired. Dressing to enhance sexual characteristics is very effective in gaining attention. It may not be the right kind of attention, but it is certainly effective.

Society and the media are very confusing. They teach us that being sexually appealing will lead to love and happiness. Our society equates lust with love. Our teenagers act out sexually (including dressing provocatively) in order to soothe their natural desire to be loved. Unknown to them, their God-given need to be loved can not be quenched by lust.

Mormon modesty lessons often focus on hemline locations, do's, and do not's. My message is different. It focuses on the foundations of modesty.

Heavenly Father gave us each a precious gift when we came to mortality. He gave us a body. We know that our Heavenly Father has a body of flesh and bone, and that we were excited to be able to receive this most precious gift. These mortal bodies are a precursor to our resurrected bodies which will at that point be perfected and immortal. Our bodies hold within them special powers beyond which we can truly comprehend. We also know that Satan and his followers will never be allowed the privilege of a body.

Satan does not want us to respect this gift. He would rather we degrade the gift, use it for wicked purposes, corrupt it, defile it, or otherwise distract us from the sacred responsibility we have to guard, take care of, and nourish this gift.

As women it is easy to feel criticized when it comes to modesty. I make no apology for our standards. This is the Lord’s standard as revealed through modern day prophets. My message is not meant to offend, but rather to remind us all of the blessings associated with modesty and invite all of us to experience and embrace those blessings. 

Whatever your current place on the path of life, modesty affects you! It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, if your kids are grown or young or nonexistent, it doesn’t even matter if you have all boys or if you are a boy. If you have a body, modesty applies to you. 

Modesty encompasses not just dress, but also language, thought, and personal conduct.

Modesty in Dress

We live in a day and age where Satan has created a very sexualized world. The messages we receive can be confusing.

"Your daughters as well as your sons are coming of age in a world that openly embraces early, casual, and thoughtless promiscuity. Immodest, unchaste women are glamorized and all too often celebrated and emulated. While there are steps that we can take in our homes and families to minimize our exposure to these unsavory elements of contemporary living, your daughters cannot entirely avoid the blatant sexual messages and enticements that surround them. You need to have frequent, open discussions during which you teach your daughters the truth about these issues. 
For example, they need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God. They need to hear this—clearly and repeatedly—from your lips, and they need to see it modeled correctly and consistently in your own personal standards of dress, grooming, and modest living." M. Russel Ballard SOURCE

When we live the principles of modesty in dress, we are giving an outward expression of an inward commitment, much like wearing the temple garment. We are showing that we know who we are and we are living it. Our families will be blessed when modesty in dress is taught and lived. Children will learn respect for not only their body, but the bodies of others. They will learn that sex appeal is not attractiveness. They will gain power in this life by learning early on that lust does not equate to love.

Modesty in Language

We live in a world where women are often crass. Life isn't so much like an episode of Downton Abbey anymore. [sigh]. 

Does your language leave something to be desired?

It’s more than just swear words and being crude. Are you giving voice to the things of the Lord? Do you speak of God and Christ in your homes? Are you speaking to others with kindness?

Do you gossip? Do you put others down?

Modesty in Thought

This is an interesting one. It's not limited to just how you think about others, but how you think about yourself. This is one that a lot of women struggle with.

What do you think of yourself? Are you kind to your body in your head? Do you degrade it by thinking it isn’t good enough? Do you pinch your fat and examine your wrinkles in the mirror? Do you love yourself just the way God made you? 

Then there's the whole thinking about others portion.

Do you sexualize others? Do you mentally criticize the appearance of others? This would include judging others for their hemlines. Yes, this means that the mental modesty police aren't so modest themselves.

Do you see lots to work on? I do. 

Modesty in Personal Conduct

Certainly you can be immodest in the way you act. I think many of us are probably guilty of acting less than a daughter of God at times. It might be the way we treat others, or it might be the way we call attention to ourselves. It might be the way we take credit for everything and give none of the glory to God. 

How about the way we treat our body?

What does your personal conduct say about your body? Do you take care of your body? Do you use your body to get what you want? Do you constantly seek after the praise of others?

Modesty is an interesting topic. It is so much more than hemlines. Expectations for hemlines have changed over time, but the eternal principles of modesty never changes. I've only touched the tip of the iceberg here. When we teach our daughters (and sons) about modesty it needs to be so much more than a list of do's or don'ts. It is a constant discussion of a higher level of living that goes far beyond what you are wearing. It is about realizing who you really are. 

Adult women have plenty to teach themselves about modesty, too. I know I do. I am a strong advocate for modesty. I can only hope to someday exemplify the modesty that the Savior exhibited in his life. Jesus was a modest man, and it had nothing to do with his hemlines. 

Modesty is a lifelong quest that requires you to discover who you really are as a child of God and the precious and sacred gift He has given you with this wonderful, beautiful, and often quirky thing called a body. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fifty Shades of Shame: LDS Women and Their Pornography

Sometimes it is a book. Sometimes it is a movie. Sometimes it is just pictures of shirtless guys. Sometimes it is the dark corners of the internet. Wherever we find it, it is the same thing. It is pornography.

While some of our sisters are trapped deeply in the shame, secrecy, and pain that comes from pornography addiction, others flaunt their pornography involvement and have somehow been given the social "okay" to do so. 

Women are sexual beings, just like men. It is a natural, God given desire. But like all things from God, Satan has found a way to perverse that which is good. It is an alluring trap. And he has tricked some of us into thinking that trap around our ankle is a piece of jewelry. 

It is no coincidence that I chose to play on the title of the popular pornographic book, and now movie, for the title of this post. It is frightening to me how many LDS women openly admit to reading the book and loving it. 

I once accidentally checked out 50 Shades of Grey from the library. I often add best sellers to my request list without knowing about the book. Such was the case with 50 Shades. I sat down to read the book one night and didn't even make it past the first page. I flipped to the book description and was mortified. What had I just let into my home? I returned the book to the library first thing in the morning, embarrassed and worried that the librarian would think I read the whole book in one night. I just hoped no one would ever find out so there would never be a misunderstanding. 

And then I heard friends at church talk about how much they loved it.

Wait, what? How could LDS women be reading this book? Let me tell you, it is 100% pornography. 

Romance novels with graphic sexual scenes are big money makers. Lots and lots of women read them. I have heard many women excuse reading these books.

"It's not like I'm masturbating." 

My dear sisters, I say this with absolute love, but let's be clear here: If you are reading or looking at things that makes your vagina feel good, then you are checking out pornography. 

I have had to unfollow Pinterest boards of some of my LDS sisters. They pin shirtless men, sometimes ones that reveal hair that I have no interest in seeing. They call their boards things like "Hot Stuff" and "Me Likey" and "Give Me Some of That."

Let me take a little liberty with the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:28

"Whosoever looketh on a man to lust after him has already committed adultery in her heart."

Maybe we need to read The For Strength of Youth a little more often in Relief Society. You can read the standards for Sexual Purity HERE and Entertainment and Media HERE

They don't just say not to look at videos or pictures of naked people having sex. They say not to arouse sexual feelings within yourself outside the bonds of marriage. This does not mean that since you are married you can do what you want. 

These socially acceptably forms of pornography will destroy you in the same ways that an old fashioned porno movie can. 

Let's look at the prophetic consequences of pornography use:

1. Weakens your self-control
2. Destroys your feelings of self-worth
3. Changes the way you see others
4. Lose the guidance of the Spirit
5. Damages your ability to have a normal relationship with others
6. Limits your ability to feel true love

Do you see these consequences in your life? 

Even a sex scene in a chick flick can make you see those consequences are real. It warps your view of sex and love. Let me tell you, my sex life doesn't mirror a romantic comedy and I don't know that many do. 

What is on the screen isn't real. What is in the book isn't real. It isn't what God wants for us. 

Looking at those half naked men on Pinterest? What will that do to your relationship with your husband? What if your husband had a bulletin board in the house full of women in bikinis with a big sign that says "Me Like"? Think your marriage would improve? 

Reading those steamy romance novels? Does it make you feel good about yourself? Does it improve your dating life? Does it teach you what to look for to recognize true love?

Sisters, we can do better. It's not just the young women that need to return to virtue. It's us "old" women too. Clean up your life. De-clutter your book shelf, free up space on your kindle, lose a Pinterest board or two. Your life will only improve. 

Let us stand for truth and righteousness at all times and in all places...

...including Pinterest and the book store. 

Note: Pornography addiction is a real issue that many LDS women face. If you are involved in the cycle of pornography addiction, please know that you are not alone. Read THIS article from the New Era. Read THESE two stories about women's addictions. Check out THIS blog that chronicles a woman's struggle with overcoming pornography addiction. Addiction requires help beyond which a Bishop can provide. See the Bishop. Get involved with a 12 Step group. Seek help from a competent therapist. There is nothing the Atonement of Jesus Christ cannot heal. You deserve to have Him heal you. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

4 Ways to Make Christ the Center of Your Christmas

December is a time for celebrating the birth and life of Jesus Christ. It is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the end of the year. For some it is a difficult time and leads to feelings of depression, loss, and grief. For those seeking Christ this Christmas, here are a few ideas to make Christ the center of your Christmas worship and celebration. 

1. Read the New Testament
Make it a goal to read the New Testament every day during the month of December. If you need to take it slower, make it a goal to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John so you can indulge yourself in reading about the life of Jesus Christ. Bonus: Read 3rd Nephi Chapters 11-26 and read of His coming to the Americas.

2. Sing a Christmas Hymn Every Day
Take a few minute each day to belt out a Christmas Hymn, one that sings the praises of Jesus Christ. Sing it with your whole heart. It doesn't matter if you are a good singer or not. This is a good time to develop a habit of shower singing. Belt it with feeling! My favorites: Oh Holy Night, Silent Night, Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel

3. Go to the Temple
Up your temple attendance during the month of December. Go once, go once a week, go every day....whatever increases your temple attendance, and yes, becomes a little bit of a sacrifice. Making it hard to accomplish will make it that much more worth it. Can't go to the temple? That's okay. Find a holy place for you and spend time there. 

4. Pray
Take a few minutes each day to say an unselfish prayer to God. Pray for others. Pray for opportunities to share the Spirit of Christ. Pray for the poor and needy. Pray for those both seen and unseen who are struggling. Make your prayers a little more thoughtful. 

How do you make Christ the center of your Christmas?

Monday, December 1, 2014

When Going to Church Hurts

Maybe you are struggling with infertility and it hurts to see all those inevitable pregnant bellies and new babies. Maybe you have been the subject of gossip and don't want to show your face. Maybe you are struggling in your marriage (or separation, or divorce) and can't stand to hear another lesson on eternal marriage. Maybe you feel like an outcast and don't want to sit alone again. 

There are numerous reasons why it might hurt to go to church. You dread Sundays and lay in bed coming up with excuses to stay home. Sometimes you do stay at home. Other times you peel yourself out of bed, get ready, and trudge your way through church. Sometimes you have to leave during the meeting because it is just too much. 

I feel you, sister. I think it is much more common than anyone really knows. We keep it a secret after all. Heaven forbid someone finds out that it hurts to go to church and judge us. Because we all know it is possible. Some self-righteous saint might very well tell us we just need to pray more or some nonsense like that. 

Sometimes it hurts to go to church. I am hear to tell you that it is okay to feel that way. I hope that you don't always feel that way. I hope that you go through periods of your life where it doesn't hurt anymore. But for now, sometimes it just hurts.

I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers for this. I don't really have any solutions for you. Sometimes no matter what you do, how much you pray, and how many scriptures you read, it'll still hurt to go to church. 

What I want to talk about instead is ways that you can still find your own personal worship despite all the pain at church. 

Do we have to go to church? Nope. You don't have to do anything. But I'm guessing that if you are reading this then you have some sort of desire to go to church, despite the hurt. Sometimes we go to church for our children. Sometimes we go to save face. Sometimes we go because we have some sort of Sunday duty. There are a lot of reasons.

If you look at the real reasons why we should go to church, they might look a little different. 

First and most important, we go to church to partake of the sacrament. If the pain is truly too much to bear, at least go for that one. 

Second, we go to church to worship God. We sacrifice our time to go and sing praises and listen to gospel messages. This just so happens to involve squirming children, people kicking your pew, spilt cheerios, and judgmental looks. 

Third, we go to church to be obedient. The man upstairs asks us to do a lot of things, and sometimes they are hard. God wants us at church. 

It is really that simple. But that doesn't take away the hurt.

Here are some suggestions that might help you. I'd love to hear more suggestions in the comments. 

Find some time before church to spend in personal worship. This might be playing the piano or singing hymns. It might mean sitting in a quiet, peaceful place in silence. It might mean reading scriptures or other inspiring literature. It might mean taking a hot bath and meditating on spiritual things. Find something that is your own personal, selfish, indulgent worship time. Connect with God before you go to church. It might help you connect with him beyond the pain when you are actually at church. 

Tune it out. If you can't handle the speaker or the lesson, tune it out. Dive into the scriptures or conference talks, anything on your little gospel library app. Sure, the speaker or teacher may think you are totally rude, but who cares? Speakers and teachers are supposed to be facilitators of the Holy Ghost so they should just take it down a notch and not take it personally when someone isn't paying attention. Take some liberty and feel free to do what you need to do to feel the Holy Ghost. If you are being disruptive, that is one thing, but it's okay if you just let the spirit take you where you need to go. 

Find a safe person. It doesn't matter what their position is or what their relation is to you. Just find a person that is safe at church. Someone you can sit by. Someone who won't give dirty looks when you check facebook on your phone. Someone who won't make a scene if you burst into tears. Someone who will be discreet if you have to leave the room. I promise you that there is someone safe in your ward. If you need help, pray your guts out to find out who it is. There's something about having a safe person there that is liberating. It frees you up to find your worship beyond the hurt.

Focus on the sacrament. If it hurts to be at church, then there is something you need. It's the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Sing your heart out during the sacrament hymn. Blur your vision so you can imagine Jesus Christ in place of the young men passing you the trays of bread and water. Give the kids some candy right before hand if it will give you some momentary peace. Cling to those few sacred minutes and try and find God beyond the pain. Utilize the power of the sacrament to restore your soul and give you strength to make it through. 

Yes, sometimes it hurts to go to church. There is certainly nothing I can do to change that. What I do know is that God wants to reach you beyond your pain. He recognizes the sacrifices you make to worship Him, and He will bless you.

Hang in there sister.  

What are your secrets for surviving church when it hurts?