July 3 Blog Post: References

LDS Church Public Affairs Statements on Ordain Women & Disciplinary Actions:

May 29, 2014 statement: http://www.millennialstar.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Context-Missing-From-Womens-Discussion-May-29-2014.pdf

June 11, 2014 statement: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-responds-to-church-discipline-questions

June 17, 2014 Radio West Interview of Ally Isom: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/latter-day-saints-and-excommunication-part-ii (partially summarized at http://www.wheatandtares.org/14487/at-their-own-word-the-mormon-newsroom-on-church-discipline/)

June 19, 2014 statement: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765655450/LDS-Church-responds-to-concerns-over-member-questions.html?pg=all

June 22, 2014 statement: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-says-everyone-welcome-room-for-questions

First Presidency Statement on Apostacy (June 28, 2014):

https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/june-first-presidency-statement?lang=eng

 LDS Church Newsroom Commentary, “Approaching Mormon Doctrine” (May 4, 2007):

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine

Kate Kelly Disciplinary Letters:

May 22, 2014: http://ordainwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-05-22-Informal-Probation-Letter-to-Kate-Kelly.pdf

June 8, 2014: http://ordainwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/K.-Kelly-Letter1-1.pdf

Recent Disciplinary Actions Against Mormons:

Huffington Post Article (July 2, 2014): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/neil-j-young/kate-kelly-the-lds-church_b_5547809.html

Askamormongirl (June 22, 2014): https://askmormongirl.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/the-real-mormon-moment-is-now/

Salt Lake Tribune Article (June 19, 2014): http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58089335-78/church-leaders-local-bishop.html.csp

NY Times Articles (June 12, 2014 and June 19, 2014): http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/us/two-activists-within-mormon-church-threatened-with-excommunication.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/us/critical-online-comments-put-church-status-at-risk-mormons-say.html

John Dehlin:
http://www.towleroad.com/2014/07/no-decision-on-excommunication-of-mormon-gay-rights-advocate-john-dehlin.html

http://mormonstories.org/why-do-you-believe-that-you-are-being-considered-for-disciplinary-action/

Denver C. Snuffer, Jr.: http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2013/08/dont-call-me-yes-that-means-you-too_23.html

http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2013/09/yesterday.html

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/blogsfaithblog/56861798-180/church-snuffer-book-lds.html.csp

http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/search?q=publication

Alan Rock Waterman:
http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/

http://mormonstories.org/rock-waterman-and-pure-mormonism/

 

 

 

 

 

Apostasy: What is it Again?

I was glad to have the First Presidency issue a statement on recent events. The excommunication of Ordain Women co-founder, Kate Kelly (along with pending disciplinary actions against other Mormon individuals) has thrown the Mormon world, not to mention my world, into a furor.


The First Presidency’s statement reads:

In God’s plan for the happiness and eternal progression of His children, the blessings of His priesthood are equally available to men and women. Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices. All service in the Church has equal merit in the eyes of God. We express profound gratitude for the millions of Latter-day Saint women and men who willingly and effectively serve God and His children. Because of their faith and service, they have discovered that the Church is a place of spiritual nourishment and growth.

We understand that from time to time Church members will have questions about Church doctrine, history, or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.

Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.

The Council of
The First Presidency and
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


This statement is, to my knowledge, the first time the LDS Church has publicly disclosed the definition of “apostasy” as provided in the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions (Vol.1).  Volume 1 of the Church Handbook outlines the responsibilities of Church leaders and provides detailed information about Church policies and procedures, including how disciplinary councils are held (i.e.,  ecclesiastical trials during which a member of the Church is tried for alleged violations of Church standards). Coincidentally, this particular Handbook is only available to certain ecclesiastical leaders in the Church, and so the procedure of disciplinary councils, and even what constitutes an ex-communicable offense, is often a mystery to the average LDS lay member.

Why is apostasy such an important word here? Generally, it is the reason why members are currently being excommunicated from the Church. In the end, apostasy is the charge by which, if proven at a disciplinary council, the Church revokes an individual’s membership and temple covenants.

Oh snap. That’s clear, isn’t it?  The Church says its okay to ask questions.  It’s sad the First Presidency even has to iterate this point, but if my recent Facebook discussions have taught me anything, it’s that this point actually needs to be made. So, for the record, ASKING QUESTIONS = OKAY.

In asking these questions, you’re only in danger of committing apostasy if you do one of two things:  1) Repeatedly act in clear, deliberate and open public (CDOP) opposition to the Church or it’s faithful leaders; or 2) Persist, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine. First, acting in CDOP opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders. That obviously means you can ask questions if the answers correspond with Church doctrine, but you can’t ask questions in a way that opposes the Church leaders…doctrine…practices…customs…culture….wait, have I gone too far afield here?


1. Repeatedly Acting in Clear, Deliberate and Open Public Opposition to the Church or its Faithful Leaders.

What is the right way to ask controversial questions, without acting in opposition to the Church? Should we not talk about topics that might make the Church or its leaders look bad, or un-clarified doctrine? Are we allowed to regularly disagree with our Sunday School teachers? Write opinions that differ from the Mormon mainstream on a blog post?

Acting “in clear, deliberate and open public opposition” may seem like a sufficiently restrictive term; but it can actually be applied to a wide range of behavior and discourse, whose characterization as CDOP opposition would be almost entirely based, not on how the agitator feels about his or her actions, but on how the recipient of the agitation  perceives this opposition.  The Science magazine offers a wonderful analysis of this behavior: simply put, we judge others’ behavior primarily by what we observe (their actions), but we judge our own behavior by our actions, thoughts, feelings and intentions. So we can often misperceive the intentions and feelings behind others’ actions.

Ally Isom and the Church Public Affairs department have a real problem with improper tone. However, if our brief foray into psychology has taught us anything, it is that we don’t all measure impropriety the same way. Therefore, behavior that may seem like deliberate antagonism and rebellion to an institution, may be perceived as necessary agitation and debate to the actors. Without defending their actions, I believe this is the disconnect that exists between some Ordain Women members and their ecclesiastical leaders.

In a June 19, 2014 press statement, Jessica Moody, from the Church Public Affairs department, emphasized just how important an individual’s perceived intent is when the Church analyzes his or her behavior: “How and why one asks is as important as the questions we’re asking.”

Ms. Moody continues, “What causes concern for Church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion, and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the Church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.”

So, sharing your opinions in local Sunday School meetings is okay.  Asking questions in chat rooms, on Facebook, and on a blog seems to be okay too.  It’s the tone and the persuasiveness of your arguments that could get you into trouble. And your tone will be judged by what the Church, as your ultimate judge, perceives your intentions and motivations to be.

On the one hand, I feel like the Church spokeswoman is saying, “You will know if you have proper intentions in asking your questions. If you publicly air controversial views, make sure you’re not trying to persuade others to take that winding path. Learn from Ordain Women.  Don’t petition, demonstrate, or put out informative pamphlets trying to change Church doctrine or structure.”

On the other hand, my cynical mind would add the following interpretation to Ms. Moody’s Public Affairs statement: “If you advocate for a position that isn’t strictly in keeping with Church practice, feel free to express your opinions—just don’t oppose current Church practice/doctrine/policy. And if you do, act alone; don’t make your arguments too persuasive, so that other people follow you.”

Following this logical trail leaves me with several concerns. How effective an examination of Church doctrine/practice/policy can we make, before running the risk of a disciplinary council? Should we just keep the difficult questions a private matter as Kate Kelly’s leaders counseled her? I want to voice my questions and opinions and have a sounding board for these thoughts.

There’s merit in public discussion: when you publicly discuss and develop your ideas, you get to see if they make sense.  If your ideas are logically sound, won’t others be attracted to your ideas, and start to share them, then possibly follow them…and is this wrong, even if the ideas are controversial?

It seems, with Kate Kelly’s excommunication, the Church is trying to set some clear boundaries about what its members cannot do—recruit others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure (that’s an interesting one); organize into groups; stage public events to further a cause [to change doctrines or structure]; or create literature for members to share in their local congregations. All of which Ordain Women has done. To this list, Elder Whitney Clayton would unofficially add that public advocacy for the ordination of women is apostasy, advice which Kate Kelly’s local leaders took all-too literally.

At this point, I feel I should mention that neither the Church Public Affairs statements, nor Elder Clayton’s private remarks, are doctrine. I’m not sure if, under the strict meaning of the word, even the First Presidency Statement is doctrine. However, at the very least, these comments reflect current Church culture, practice, and the standards by which questioning minds will be judged today.


2. Persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine. The First Presidency press release also cautions against statements that contain “false teachings” or which mislead other members. This corresponds with the second part of the definition of apostasy provided by the First Presidency: persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.  Clearly, Kate Kelly’s local leaders felt impelled to correct false doctrinal teachings about women and the priesthood. To that end, Ms. Kelly’s stake president asked her to take down her website, disassociate herself from Ordain Women and publicly repent. Her refusal to do so led to her excommunication.

Putting aside for a moment that women’s ordination to the priesthood is neither fully supported nor contradicted within Mormon doctrine, it’s difficult for us on the blogosphere, who are interested in this topic, to know from this ecclesiastical counsel exactly what we can and cannot say on the subject.

Let’s just say we won’t advocate for the ordination of women. Then we’ll be safe from charges of apostasy, right?  Unfortunately, Kate Kelly is only one of several Mormon activists facing disciplinary action for airing their opinions: those facing charges of apostasy include John Dehlin, gay rights advocate and founder of the Mormon Stories podcast; Alan Rock Waterman, founder of the Pure Mormonism blog; and now-excommunicated Denver Snuffer, Jr., author and founder of the Denver Snuffer blog. Their writings analyze, and advocate, the writers’ beliefs about a diverse range of subjects—same-sex marriage and attraction; church history and theology; the corporate arm of the Church; and doctrinal topics like priestcraft, the Word of Wisdom, current tithing practices, and polygamy.

I can only assume their local leaders relied on the definition of apostasy provided in Church Handbook of Instructions (Vol. 1), in deciding to charge these members with apostasy. And the truth is, each and every one of these individuals could be found guilty of the charge—because, in the end, the definition of apostasy is, well… so darn broad.

Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.

To be fair, the local LDS leaders did instruct these individuals (I’ll call them the Foursome) what they could do to avoid excommunication.  However, these leaders did not always iterate what specific beliefs got the Foursome into trouble in the first place, or why these beliefs contradicted Church doctrine. This concerns me, a blogger, because in some instances the individuals were actually excommunicated, without knowing why their beliefs were false.

What’s more, local leaders have a lot of discretion in deciding whether individual has taught false doctrine, or acted in opposition to the Church and its faithful leaders.  Church spokeswoman Jessica Moody recently commented on this subject, “[The] standard procedural handbook says: ‘Local presiding officers should not expect General Authorities to tell them how to decide difficult matters. Decisions on Church discipline are within the discretion and authority of local presiding officers as they prayerfully seek guidance from the Lord.’ ”

So, even if the Foursome’s ecclesiastical leaders had clarified the false doctrinal teachings for these individuals, their leaders’ explanations would not apply to any interpretations my bishop or stake president might have of Church doctrine.

There are undoubtedly positive results from giving local Church leaders discretion in convening disciplinary councils and defining apostate behavior and beliefs. Disciplinary councils are at times referred to as “councils of love” because they can offer a repentance process based on that member’s particular sins (and there are a multitude of ways to sin). Many leaders who have participated in these councils will say they have felt the presence of the Lord’s Spirit attending them during the process.

But even with all those positive accounts, there is no member of the Church who wants to be in front of a disciplinary council. And, unfortunately, even with recent statements by Church Public Affairs and the Office of the First Presidency outlining some unacceptable behavior, I’m not sure a critical thinker and writer within the Church will know how to clearly avoid prohibitive Church actions in the future.

The New York Times and the Huffington Post report at least dozen Mormons in the U.S. are facing discipline for expressing criticisms of the Church or support for same-sex marriage or women’s ordination on-line, with several more unofficial reports of disciplinary action coming in across the blogosphere.

I’d hope an LDS member with questions finds his or her Church leaders to be a generally tolerant group; but our leaders’ current scrutiny of social media is troubling. And there is still a lot of gray area when it comes to defining what makes an online discussion acceptable or unacceptable; not only because apostasy is so broadly defined, but because our local leaders have great discretion when disciplining the members in their jurisdiction.

I’ve heard a fair number of stories where local Church leaders responded to questions about LDS doctrine and practice with acceptance, respect and even support. I’ve also heard several accounts when the individuals were very surprised their bishops had taken exception to their online comments. It’s important to note here that no disciplinary action takes place in a vacuum. I’d like to think it takes more than just one online comment, Facebook post or discussion group to violate Church policy and irk your local leaders.

For good or for ill, the Church disciplinary process is a very localized affair that relies on subjective interpretations of, not only doctrine, but also an individual’s behavior, intentions, and beliefs. Done under the perfect guidance of the Holy Spirit, I actually believe this can be a good implementation of ecclesiastical judgment.

However, when such an active community of bloggers, writers, chatters and Facebook posters is given only general guidelines, and varying implementation of those guidelines, it’s also hard to know when we risk Church discipline for an expressed thought. As someone who explores her faith through questioning, exploring and discussing her ideas, I’d like to know before I’m in danger of the judgment; facing the great unknown of the disciplinary council is a gamble I just don’t want to make.


For a list of references used in this post, click here. This is not an official web site of the LDS Church.

Father’s Day Discourses

In light of recent events in the LDS Church, I was very interested in the Father’s Day sermons that would be given in various wards. Reading the stories on the Mormon message boards provided me with moments of hilarity but also hope. Here’s a wonderful story (re-posted with the author’s permission):

Exploring Sainthood Father's Day post

Be Cool

I did something I’m pretty ashamed of this weekend. I yelled at a kid.  I made him cry. I thought I was a better adult than this.

Let me backtrack; on Friday, Jang, Kisan and I went to the Museum of Natural Curiosity, at Thanksgiving Point. Now, while it is very cool and has a lot of interactive exhibits, it is also very busy; and there is no employee supervision or crowd control in the busy exhibits. But Jang and I would be watching Kisan carefully, so I thought he would be safe with us. Boy, was I wrong.

One of the first rooms we visited in the new Museum contained large piles of foam blocks. Older and younger kids played side-by-side, building houses, towers and walls.  Then, after a while, someone would usually come over and use their hands to knock the buildings down.  It was busy, but the kids around us generally seemed well behaved.  Kisan was happily playing beside me with foam blocks. Jang was standing a couple of feet away from me, talking with his friend.  Losing interest in the blocks he had been playing with, Kisan walked over to a large foam brick wall, and I followed behind to make sure it was okay for him to knock it down.

Then, without warning, this a large, lanky kid crashes through the wall, propelling my baby backwards in a shower of foam bricks. The room was so loud, I didn’t hear Kisan hit the cement floor, but I saw him land on his back—hard—and heard his scream.  If you’ve ever seen your baby get hurt, you’ll understand the feelings of panic I experienced. Jang and I rushed over right away (like I said, I was only a foot away!) and while I tried to pick him up my mind raced with worry for my little boy. Was he okay? Was he bleeding? Jang quickly scooped him up in his arms, leaving me standing there with my fear and growing anger.

Then I saw the boy standing there.  He was almost as tall as me (no large feat there) and must have been 10 or 11 years old.  Bottom line, he had no place running through a block wall in a room crowded with small children. I turned to him with all the fury of a mama bear whose cub has just been hurt.

“What the heck are you doing?! Watch where you’re going!” I yelled at him, then turned back to examine my baby again.  Jang was cradling Kisan to his chest, so I had a moment to look over again at the offending boy again. He was only few feet away, talking to his mom.  I saw her ask him what had happened, and I saw his jaw quiver when he answered. You could tell he was pretty upset.  As he was talking, he looked over at Kisan and me and quickly looked away, misery evident on his face.

And just like that, my heart broke. I couldn’t be angry with this boy anymore; and I probably shouldn’t have been angry with him in the first place. I walked over to him, with his mom standing by, and I said (looking directly into his face), “I’m sorry. He’s all right. I’m sorry.” And I gave him a hug. He nodded his head and tears welled up in his eyes. I saw tears in his mother’s eyes too.  I felt like the most rotten adult—ever.  I’d scared this child and made him cry. I’d made his mom cry. In short, I’d been a big bully.

My fear for my baby did not give me the right to terrorize others. With my shame burning a hole in my chest, I quickly took Kisan from Jang and carried him (still screaming) into the other room to comfort him—which is what I should have been doing all along. He ended up being fine, just like he’s been fine after other tumbles.

As I thought about what had happened that night in bed, I realized my behavior was totally unjustifiable.  Yes, that boy’s mother should have been watching him better. But just like I had tried my best to watch my little boy, hadn’t that mom probably tried her best as well?  Sometimes, accidents just happen when kids play together.

What’s worse, I never would have acted that way if one of my friend’s kids had run into Kisan. It just wouldn’t be appropriate to yell at a friend’s child. But why was it okay, in my mind, to yell at a complete stranger?  Oh, I’d sniped at strangers before—on the road; when someone took my parking spot; when a receptionist had mis-calendared my appointment.  There’d always been some excuse why it was their fault; and since they’d been adults, my behavior hadn’t seemed so bad at the time. But now I’d yelled at a kid—someone who, even though he was a stranger to me, deserved to be treated gently by the adults in his life, not to be belittled and frightened. The truth is, in that moment I yelled at him, he wasn’t a little boy to me; I wasn’t thinking about him as a person; I didn’t care about his feelings. He was someone who had hurt Kisan.  That was all that went through my mind.

Just in case you think I have rage issues, I did moderate my behavior at the time. Somehow, lacking the presence of mind to act my best, I didn’t act my worst. I hadn’t tried to terrify the boy—I’d yelled, but not roared. I hadn’t gotten in his face. And I’d never dream of trying to physically bully a child. But I hadn’t moderated my behavior enough.

The truth is, I should have been my best self. Kisan had gotten hurt while playing before and recovered. The logical part of my brain should have told me he’d be fine again this time. But it just didn’t, not in the moment.  Even with my emotions taking over, I should have had the presence of mind to calm myself. If logic had failed, my morality should have restrained me.  After all, am I not a Christian? An adult? A mother? How would I have felt if someone had yelled at Kisan the way I yelled at this little boy?

If nothing else, this experience has been a wake-up call for me. You see, none of the incidents I described earlier were okay behavior for me. I should never yell at other drivers, make snippy remarks to a receptionist, or speak so harshly to another child. It’s just not right to behave badly and privately repent later. When bad behavior becomes a habit, it becomes your character. And I just don’t want my character to be this way—angry, mean, or hurtful to others. So starting this week, I have a new goal: to keep my cool, at all costs. I hope I can follow through, because I want my character and behavior to reflect all the best parts of me, not the worst.

 

Mothers, Mothers

To be honest, Mother’s Day makes me feel kind of embarrassed. Living in Utah where having large families is common, I sometimes wonder if, with my one child, I have the street cred that the moms around me do.  Yes, we’ve had some unique challenges with Kisan, but overall he’s a well-mannered and affectionate baby. What about the moms I know who have three, four, five, even eight (yes, eight) children? How do my experiences compare with theirs, and how can I possibly merit the same recognition today that they do?

Sure, being a mom has been challenging.  There have been days I’ve been so glad to leave Kisan with the sitter, while I work for a few hours. Or I’ve counted the minutes till nap time.  But you know what?  I always love it when he can be with me again. Funny how even a few hours away from your baby can make you miss him so much. And he is always so, so happy to see me. That unconditional love is like a drug. You can’t help but want to be around your baby when he shows you that much affection and love.

But I get the feeling that, with more kids, your free time shrinks. You don’t get the chance to miss your kids, because they’re always around. As your kids get older, they don’t love you quite as unconditionally.  Sometimes they might think they hate you. If you’re a mom of multiples, there’s so many demands on your time, so many needs to meet, you don’t have any time for yourself. And yet, through it all, you keep giving of your time and  yourself—through sleepless nights, frustration, and sickness—because that’s what moms do.

See, I’m still at the early stages of parenting, when my husband can really help share the load.  If I’m tired or sick, I can take long naps on the weekends (and sometimes during the week).  If I ever get too frustrated, I can bundle my little guy into the car and take him somewhere, because you can do that with just one kid. And since Kisan still naps, I have up to two hours of free time during the day to work on projects, or to rest.  Life has gotten harder since becoming a mom, but it’s still pretty good. I admire you moms who have taken the plunge and had larger families. My friends all seem to do it so well.

My college friends and their adorable families.
My college friends and their adorable children.  We’ve since added more to the bunch!

Having a kid seems like a very irreversible step to me; and I’d hate to get to the point where I have four or five kids and realize, “Holy crap! I can’t handle this!” What if they don’t feel loved and don’t feel important? What if I can’t be a good mom to them, and my kids then hate me forever? (This is the scenario that plays out in my head. Just planning for all contingencies).

You moms—particularly stay-at-home moms—what an immense responsibility you have. You’re the first person who teaches your children to love. Who helps them feel a sense of self-worth. You’re the first line of defense against a sometimes all-too-cruel world, full of bullies and peer pressure and negative media. You make them feel special, simply because they’re your child. That is a huge role to fill, and one I’m only just learning about.

If you have a good partnership, your husband will also rear and influence your children. But since moms are often the full-time caretakers of your children, you’re the ones with the most influence. You’re the ones who internalize every disappointment or hurt your child experiences. Multiply that times however many children you have; it’s no wonder the world feels like they need to honor you, for a day at least.

So, to all my friends and family out there, Happy Mother’s Day.  I hope you’re managing motherhood as well as I think you are. Maybe in a few years I’ll have earned a place beside you.

Being Pregnant Sucks—But it Beats the Alternative

My first pregnancy was wonderful.  Truly.  Jang & I had been married a year.  I was an avid runner and worked full-time at a local law firm.  Throughout the entire nine months, I kept busy, active and fit.  Sure, I experienced the odd bout of nausea, but it was manageable.  The nausea was only proof to me that I was “really” pregnant.  To be honest, I felt a little bit like this:

pregnancy unicorn
“Gaw, she’s like a magical pregnancy unicorn.”

Now I’m pregnant for a second time.  When I got pregnant, my husband and I had been married four years. I was an avid runner, and somehow balanced work with taking care of a very active toddler.  I kept active and fit.

But oh, how this pregnancy has changed things.

I haven’t been active in months—nausea, weakness and headaches have kept me homebound.  I’m lucky if I can manage a few hours at work every week.  Morning sickness?  I wish.  All too often, I have to stick close to the comforting closeness of my toilet—for the entire day.

If I had to put it into picture form, this pregnancy would look something like this:

"Pregnancy sucks. Making a human being is really hard."
“Pregnancy sucks. Making a human being is really hard.”

This time, I can wholeheartedly say that pregnancy sucks.  It’s really, really hard growing a human being.

There have been many times these past few months when I’d sit and think, “How long can I keep this up?”  And at those moments of depression, vomiting and woe, I have this thought:

It could be worse.  I could not be pregnant at all.

For anyone who’s ever struggled with becoming pregnant, only you will truly understand how terrifying this thought can be.  Jang and I tried for a year to get pregnant this time.  To some, that may seem like a laughably short amount of time; but it seemed so long to us.

All last year, serious health problems kept me from being able to conceive. Sometimes, I’d be in bed the entire day with fever, headaches and nausea (a good primer for pregnancy, but still very discouraging).  And every time I’d get a little better, and we’d start “trying again”, I’d relapse, and our plans would get put on hold for months while my doctors tried yet another course of treatment.  It was frustrating, disheartening, and stressful.

For much of the year, I didn’t tell a soul about our struggles.  It was too private and personal to share; especially in a community that considers gossip to be good Christian behavior.  I just didn’t want to be one more topic of discussion for them.

Because no one knew about our struggle, during this time several people in our local congregation would often ask me, “Isn’t it time for another one?” “When do you think you’ll try for another one?” Or, the most blatant comment, “It looks like Kisan wants a brother.”  Most of the time, I’d just smile and make up some excuse.  I couldn’t get mad at them—although the comments were impertinent, they weren’t meant to be hurtful.  But privately, with Jang, I would vent my frustration at their thoughtless words.

And knowing that people really were watching me and wondering at my infant-less state only added to the pressure I already felt to conceive.

Finally, at the beginning of this year, I’d been well enough that Jang and I thought it might be time to try again.  I didn’t want to get my hopes up; I already had so many times.  Imagine, then, how we felt when we found out I was pregnant.  We were happy, excited…but most of all, we were relieved.  It had been a very, very had year for us.

So now I’m pregnant, and it’s been a wretched experience at times.  That’s not to say there isn’t a glimmer of light—recently, the nausea has gotten a lot better.  I’m starting to get back into a regular work schedule.  I even manage to drag myself out of the house for outings with my son.  I’m starting to feel like myself again—rounder, more tired, but essentially me.

I still get pretty ill sometimes.  But during these times, I always remind myself, “It could be worse.  I could still be trying.  I could still be uncertain. This is better.”

To anyone who’s trudging along the long, disheartening road of preconception, I can only say this:  It sucks. Trying to get pregnant is really, really hard.

I only wish I’d found something last year to help me feel more optimism. Please, if you’re struggling to conceive, find something that gives you that hope.  And then write me and tell me what that is.  Because even though pregnancy is hard, I’m pretty sure I’ll try for another.  And Lord help me when I do.

What I Want in my Easter Basket

Like any good American, I celebrate the commercialized Easter with gusto.  With a toddler in the house, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to organize egg hunts, fill Easter baskets, decorate eggs, and dress my offspring in theperfect—Easter—outfit. Growing up, I remember Easter mornings we’d rush eagerly downstairs, finding our baskets packed to the brim with treats and presents.  As I look for gifts and egg fillers for my little man, I can’t help but feel nostalgic for my childhood Easters.

Then I saw all the religious posts on Facebook, reminding me of the seriousness of Easter and killing my holiday buzz—thanks folks.  They reminded me that I’d become distracted from Easter’s true purpose—remembering Christ.  The baskets and egg hunts have nothing to do with the real Easter, they chastised me. And as I clicked on the videos of His Atonement, crucifixion and Resurrection, I couldn’t help but feel like all my Easter gifts paled in comparison to His.

Easter Sign

So, with my irreligious holiday exuberance tapered, I started to think about my Easter basket (my figurative one, of course—no one makes an Easter basket for moms).  What gift would I really like to find in my basket on Easter morning?  Once I gave it serious thought, I quickly found my answer—it was Christ.  I want Christ’s compassion and love in my Easter basket this Sunday.

I thought about His immense capacity to love and to forgive.  The ability to forgive and to love is hard for me, in part because I had a difficult childhood.  In fact, it’s very hard for me to forgive the people who hurt me as a child.  Their thoughtless, cruel actions have left scars; these scars pain me and affect me to this day.  Is it even possible for me to put forgiveness for these people in my basket?

But see, the wonderful thing about a holiday that focuses on Christ, is you get to think about Christ, and what He would do.  And I clearly remember that He forgave.  He forgave over and over again.  Even when he was being tortured and crucified, He asked his Father to forgive the same people who were committing these horrible acts.  I haven’t undergone even a fraction of the pain the Savior suffered.  What excuse do I have to withhold my forgiveness?

This thought inspired me; and, as I reflected on my past, I was surprised to realize that I’ve already forgiven so much of what happened to me.  This doesn’t mean my past doesn’t still affect my life today. One uplifting experience can’t heal a lifetime of resentment.  But even though it will take time to achieve full forgiveness, this Easter holiday, I’m hopeful.  If I try to fill my basket with forgiveness, perhaps, just perhaps, Christ can help me actually feel it in my heart.

Christ Forgiveness

 

How Losing My Sister Changed My Faith

I’m a fervent believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I sometimes post on controversial issues (on Facebook or otherwise), and because of this people often question my beliefs.  It’s a fair question, if you only interact with me in the virtual world.  But I have a deep religious faith.  Because I want you to understand the sincerity of my beliefs, I’ll share a story that, while difficult for me to recount, helped define my life and testimony.

In 2006, I went to serve as a missionary for the LDS Church in Arequipa, Peru.  I entered the Arequipa mission with all the optimism and joy of a newly called missionary.  The mission was a prosperous one, as far as gaining converts was concerned.  My companions and I had no shortage of people to speak to, and we taught several missionary lessons daily.  Seeing large numbers of inactive members, we visited them often, and soon our small branches started to grow.  After six months, I had gained enough experience to become a senior companion.

Tacna, Peru, 2006.
Tacna, Peru, 2006.

The brightness of these early days soon dimmed, however, with alarming news from home.  In October 2006, my mom wrote that my sister, Jennifer, was experiencing some severe pain in her hip.  Soon, the doctors came back with a terrifying diagnosis.  Jen had soft tissue sarcoma.  I cried when I heard, and immediately started fasting for her.

It wasn’t long before my sister and mom had scheduled a barrage of tests and arranged a treatment plan for Jennifer.  Surprisingly, I was able to still focus on proselyting and find joy in the work.  I remember sincerely feeling that, if I worked hard, God would bless my family and maybe, just maybe, Jen’s cancer would go into remission.

Jennifer had surgery to remove her tumor in December 2006—but the cancer had invaded the bone too deeply, and the doctors also had to remove her leg.  When I spoke with her on Christmas Day 2006, she seemed well, although I’ve since learned from my family the time after her surgery was immensely painful for her.

Then, on February 14, 2007, I received a brief phone call, summoning me see to the Mission President in Arequipa.  I was in Puno, high in the Andean mountains.  My companion and I took the six-hour bus ride to Arequipa and I was ushered into the President’s office.  He quietly told me my parents had called with bad news about my sister; then he left me alone to call them.  Moments later, I listened to my mom say, in a trembling voice, that Jennifer’s cancer was terminal.  She had little time left, a month at most.  I started to cry, and I’m crying writing this now.

Later I learned Jennifer had asked my parents to hide from me the seriousness of her cancer.  Up to that point, I had hoped that she would still beat the disease somehow, that I would be able to see her when I got home from my mission.  I just remember my mom kept repeating, “It’s all right, it’s all right, she’s suffering so much anyway, I’d prefer she go.”

I immediately asked my parents when I could come home to see her.  Their response shocked me—“Don’t come home.”  Jen wanted me to stay in the mission, they explained, and I had to stay in the mission I’d been called to.  I still don’t think any of them knew what they were asking of me.

After hanging up, I called Jen.  She was medicated and couldn’t speak much. I mostly remember telling her, over and over, that I loved her.

Of course, I started fasting for Jen the next day.  After a lot of prayer, I asked the President if I could visit Jen, before she passed. I had also made a very difficult decision—if Pres. Galli’s answer was “no”, then I would stay in the mission God had called me to.  I knew I was supposed to be there, helping some very unique individuals to come to Christ.  President Galli’s response was direct:  if I visited home, I would have to stay there, and I may or may not be reassigned to a stateside mission.  It was exactly the answer I didn’t want.  But I had received a confirmation from God that I was to stay in Peru and finish my mission there. 

Pres. Galli also gave me permission to call Jennifer and my parents when I wished; but every time I called Jen after February 15, our conversations were always short.  She became progressively less coherent over time.

That period was so difficult.  Although I didn’t waver in my decision, I frequently worried about my sister and family.  Saying this, I do know that as many times as I felt grief, I also felt spiritually quieted.  Constant prayer and a priesthood blessing brought me moments of peace and consolation.  The Spirit reconfirmed my decision to stay in the mission more than once, and although I could not feel true joy, I found solace in my work as a missionary.

On March 10, 2007, Jennifer died.  Both her husband and my mother were by her side.  It hurt all of us, so much.  But it was a small comfort to know she was no longer in pain.  Because she had served in the military in Iraq, many of her fellow soldiers attended her funeral—”a sea of green” in the crowd, my parents later told me with pride.

I had some hard times after Jen’s death.  But I, and my companions, continued to teach, and some of these people were baptized.  I grieved, but I also felt a strong desire to focus on my mission. I think I wanted to make our sacrifices (both Jen’s and mine) count.  Many times, I reflected on the Plan of Salvation.  I was so grateful for my firm belief in the Plan, and its core principle—that families can be united forever in heaven.  What an amazing doctrine!  When Jennifer died, I knelt down and thanked God for this Plan, and that we could be together again.

While I don’t know why these struggles came to us,  I do know this experience profoundly shaped my belief in an all-knowing Heavenly Father.  During this time, I came to know and love Him as He comforted me time and again. His guidance helped me develop a deep and abiding faith in His Gospel, the Plan of Salvation, and personal revelation.  By the end of my mission, I had changed into someone who held these beliefs close to my heart. They’re an indivisible part of me—knowledge I’ve bought with pain, and loss, and sacrifice.

Jennifer Ball Cooper, my sister
Jennifer Ball Cooper, my sister.