God Exists

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“What if it’s all fake—what if God doesn’t really exist?” It’s a question that I’m sure we’ve all had at some point in our lives. There are several experiences in my life that have proven to me that God exists. They’re not miraculous or newsworthy; but to me they’re undeniable proofs that He lives.

A decade ago, I was in an England study abroad program. We were learning about art and literature, and I soaked up our visits to cultural landmarks, museums, and castles. Yet, even as I threw myself into the experience, I soon found myself homesick. I called my parents regularly, but this wasn’t enough to remove my feelings of loneliness. I became very sick and depressed, and started to skip school excursions and social gatherings because I didn’t have the energy to attend them.

I tried to make myself “snap out of it,” but I wasn’t successful. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed help. As a Christian, I believed that God could heal me; but my prayers, to that point, hadn’t yielded any result.
I had also been raised to believe that I could be healed through a priesthood blessing. Finding I couldn’t be healed through my faith alone, I finally worked up the courage to ask another student for a blessing. We had only spoken a couple of times, always in a group setting, and he knew very little about me. But he readily agreed to give me the blessing that evening. What would follow was one of the most powerful priesthood blessings I’ve ever had.

This young man was soft-spoken, and clearly shy around girls. You had to look directly at him in a conversation to fully understand him. But when he laid his hands on my head, there was no hesitation when he said I would be healed. Then his voice continued, strong and clear: “God knows the desires of your heart,” he told me, “He’s heard your prayers, and someday, your family will be close with one another.”

To this point, I haven’t told you the full extent of my problems. This struggle with homesickness wasn’t new for me; I’d wrestled with these feelings since, at age seventeen, I had left home to attend college in Utah, thousands of miles away. Even if the man blessing me had guessed my illness was somehow psychological, he would have no way of knowing the severity of these feelings, or the fact that my depression and feelings of alienation continued when I was at home.

Ball Family Pic Dec 2014

Already two semesters into college, I was quickly finding that my short visits home during the summers did not make me feel any less lonely. Most people have a need for love and acceptance from their family. My family generally holds their emotions very close—we didn’t share feelings or talk about our internal struggles; in short, we did not take the time to truly get to know each others’ emotional needs, much less try to fulfill them. Thus, going home for me was, in many ways, as emotionally unsatisfying as being away from home. And I was left struggling to find a way of connecting with my family to fill the huge hole this left in my heart.

At the time I received this blessing, I hadn’t quite figured out why my visits home left me feeling so solitary. I just knew that I wanted my family to be closer, and I often prayed for this to happen. Nobody knew what I had been praying for—I hadn’t told a single soul, ever, that this was a very deep desire for me. So when this shy, reserved man started to talk about my family, and promise me that my prayers would be answered and my family would be closer, I knew that only God would be able to tell him this.

When I reflect on what my story means to me, I think about the Biblical account of the woman at the well, in ancient Syria. In the story, Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to draw him water. She resisted at first, and a verbal exchange followed. In this conversation, Jesus revealed to the woman details about her life that he, a stranger, could not have possibly known. The woman went away in amazement and told all the city, “ Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

I used to overlook this story as one of the lesser miracles of Jesus; but thinking about my own experience, I’m struck by how simply, but effectively, Christ was able to reveal himself to her as a prophet, even the Son of God. There are too many stories to count of those who have seen miracles in the world. But, if there is any weakness in these accounts, it lies in their physicality.  With time, we can second-guess anything that we alone see, touch, feel or hear. Too often, I do not write my spiritual experiences down, and the emotions or sensations that I felt at the time become diminished; until, eventually, I forget the miracle.

That’s why this blessing was so special; it was not something I alone experienced.  If I’d heard a voice in my head saying these same words, or only had a feeling in my heart, I could have one day disbelieved in them, because I so often doubt my thoughts and feelings. But God took it upon Himself to inspire a young man, a virtual stranger, to discern the thoughts and intents of my heart—and so His existence is something I can never deny.  Ten years ago, I wrote that experience down.  And it will remain forever etched in my memory as a testimony that God lives and is aware of me. And He is aware of my family as well.

 

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Not my Baby

This April, you won’t see us blessing our daughter in a church. Her father won’t hold her up, Lion King-style, in front of an admiring audience as I sit silently in the back pew. This decision makes us atypical among our Mormon friends. But I simply don’t like the message that the typical baby blessing projects—that Jang, as the head of our household, is the only one worthy enough to bless and present our baby before the congregation.

Let me just tell you how our family works; there is no head of the household.  Jang and I approach religious worship as we do all other aspects of our marriage—as equals.  That’s not to say there’s no division of duties; I recently became—gulp!—a stay-at-home mom.  Thus, by default, I get to make many of the day-to-day decisions on raising our kids. Jang is the “breadwinner” and full-time working parent.  So, although he asks my opinion on many work-related things, he does not consult with me on most decisions about how to run his law firm. It’s not because we necessarily believe in proscribed gender roles; this division of duties, for us, is about what is practical.

But excluding mothers from participating in baby blessings serves no practical purpose.  It is only about division, about demonstrating the “proper” priesthood order that governs the Church today.  In doing so, I believe the Church undermines women’s roles in creating and raising that baby; some would see it as another example of how women are marginalized in the Church today.

Let me tell you the thoughts that go through my head when I think about letting my daughter be blessed in the traditional way. For nine months, I suffered intense bouts of nausea, terrible acid reflux and exhaustion, before laboring to bring her into this world.  Since then, I’ve been her constant companion.  Often, mine is the first face she sees in the morning and the last one before she sleeps at night. In my divine role as her mother, I’m responsible for her nurturing, care and safety. Yet, on the day when she is recognized by my Church, and given a name and a blessing, I’m essentially nothing to her; I don’t even have the standing to be able to bring her before my fellow members and say, “Look! Here is my daughter.”  Nope; I’m just another face in the crowd.  Any adult Melchizedek priesthood holder, although a stranger to her, can participate in this blessing circle. But not me.

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I had the traditional baby blessing with my first child. I won’t apologize for this decision; my husband and I wanted to include our new ward in the blessing, because of their many kindnesses to us. Before the blessing, I remember asking the Bishop if I could record it, so that my son could later listen to his father’s words. That request was met with such a firm (if kind) no, I didn’t dare ask if I could participate in the blessing circle. Later, I regretted my choice.  I now firmly believe that there is no justification for prohibiting me, or any other woman, from participating in blessing her child.

The thing is, my ideas about revelation and blessings have come a long way since first blessing our son almost three years ago. I know now that every person, whether a priesthood holder or not, has the right to ask for (even promise) blessings upon their family. I’ve discarded the image of my husband as being the head of our family and the primary source of God’s revelation for us. As my children’s mother and primary caregiver, I know their spirits and personalities more intimately than anyone. And while I emphatically believe in the sacredness of priesthood blessings, and I believe my husband will receive revelation to guide our children’s future lives, I also know I can too.

And so, we’ve made a decision; this time around, we won’t bless our baby in a church. Her father won’t carry her ceremoniously up to the mount of revelation, leaving me behind with the masses. In this at least, I will not be a second-class participant in my children’s religious lives. Not only will I hold her during the blessing, I may even say a few words about my baby as well. Because, if I speak, it will be as a mother who prays over her children constantly, and who has already called down numerous blessings from Heavenly Father for her small family. Asking God for revelation and blessings, particularly concerning my children, is something I am entitled to do as a mother, without regard for any institution (religious or otherwise) on this earth. And so, if I choose to speak, I have no doubt the Spirit can be with me, as well as my husband, to give us direction for her future life. I don’t need for it to be officially recognized by the Church for the words to proceed from God. In conducting the blessing this way, I do not feel I’m undermining my husband’s priesthood authority; I hope I am complementing it.

I hope the blessing can be an opportunity for our family to establish healthy interactions, not only with the Mormon church, but with one another as well.  With this decision, I want to show my children that their father and I are equals before God, both at home and at Church.  And since that equality is not apparent in the blessings that take place in Church today, our daughter’s will take place where it belongs—in our home.

And I’m recording the entire thing, darn it.

LDS Church Separating Temple & Civil Ceremonies?

Salt Lake City Temple

A big change is likely coming to temple sealing ceremonies this year in the United States and Canada. A posting last Saturday in The Mormon Hub discussion group caught my interest right away.  I’ve included the relevant portions of it here:

“Interesting HAPPY news today from a friend […] [his relative is] an area auditor for the church […] They shared with him that the church is getting out of the “wedding business”. They will be separating the civil marriage from the temple sealing. This is far enough along that they are disseminating this information now to regional area leadership. Basically preparing and letting leaders know it’s happening.”

While I consider this group a pretty decent resource, the Internet has been known to spread false information at times. So I decided to do some additional investigating. I quickly found a Salt Lake Tribune article from February 12, 2014, Is change coming to Mormon temple wedding policy?  The article discusses the Church “may” remove the one-year waiting period between civil marriage ceremonies and a temple marriage. Under current Church policy, if LDS couples have any type of civil ceremony outside of the temple, they cannot be sealed in a temple for a year.  After the change, faithful LDS members would now be able to have a civil wedding ceremony and their temple wedding, making it a more “inclusive” ceremony for those whose family members cannot enter the LDS temple sealing.

Putting the article in a completely different light, the LDS Church may have found it to be prudent to no longer perform civil wedding ceremonies. The obvious context is, of course, the legalization of homosexual marriage in many states, either through legislation or judicial decision. With Utah being only one of many states whose laws prohibiting  same-sex marriage are embroiled in judicial proceedings, it seems like only a matter of time before the Church took some action on this subject. Already in Canada, an area where the Church would reportedly implement its new policy, religious institutions and clerics have been charged before human rights commissions and in courts because they have refused to participate in homosexual marriages, or have expressed ideological differences with the practice. Look for a future blog post about the legal challenges that have been brought in other countries, most notably England, Denmark and Canada.

So when will this change happen? According to another posting in The Mormon Hub, a couple with a September 2014 wedding date was told the change would happen before then.

Until then, we’ll wait with bated breath.

[Update 1/22/2015: As of this posting, the LDS Church has not announced any change that would bifurcate the civil and temple ceremonies.  Hmmm.  I think I’ll have to revisit this issue with my friends at the Mormon Hub].

Supporting Women: A Family Affair

I was on Temple Square with my family yesterday.  We were there to support the Ordain Woman movement. And it was amazing!  I’m not a member of Ordain Women.  It’s not that I don’t agree with their premise that women could be ordained to the priesthood.  But Elder Oaks’ remarks at the 2014 Priesthood session, and recent statements by the LDS Church, seem to close the lid on that subject- at least for now. 

I’m not posting to argue the doctrine on this issue.  Many of you have your minds made up that women shouldn’t hold the priesthood, and I respect that.  But for all those who would only be getting your information on the 2014 priesthood demonstration from local news media, I’d like to tell you what I experienced on Temple Square yesterday.

My husband, Jang, and I brought our two-year-old son to the demonstration.  Because of naptime, we were running late, and would just arrive at the tail end of the event.  We parked our car at City Creek and quickly made our way to Temple Square.  Within moments, we saw the Ordain Women line.  And it…was…huge!  It started at the Tabernacle door and wrapped most of the way around the large circular building. Mind you, the women started lining up at 4:30 pm.  We got there after 5:30 pm.  That means women had been approaching the door and been turned away for over an hour before we got there.  Some estimates put the number of participants at 500+ people, and I’m inclined to believe that figure is accurate.

And that wasn’t the most impressive part.  This next part, you might not believe, but I swear it’s the truth—the line was almost entirely comprised of men and women.  The sight was so impressive my husband and I stopped for a moment and took it in.  I even teared up a little bit.  The men and women in that line were standing side-by-side, happy and peaceful.  They looked like there was no other place in this world they’d rather be.  It was exactly what I’d always dreamed of seeing in our Church.  Men and women, working together as participants with an equal voice.  The symbolism of that just astounds me. 

I hadn’t been sure if I would stand in line, and I definitely wasn’t going to push Jang to join me if I did.  But the urge to join with these people quickly became overpowering.  And bless his heart, Jang was right beside me as we quickly took our places at the back of the line.

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Our family together in the priesthood session standby line.

As we stood in the slow-moving line, we started chatting with the women and men around us, who were all very friendly.  Some were staunch supporters of OW.  Others, like me, were there to show their support for all the Movement had already accomplished to expand women’s role in the Church.  We talked and laughed as we recounted our reasons for coming.  For some, just getting to the demonstration had been an adventure. 

Then, the conversation hushed as the front of the line came into view.  An Ordain Women spokeswoman was positioned to the side, and as we drew up by her she explained that each person or group would have the chance to speak to the usher at the front of the line.  We would be turned away, and should then quietly leave the Square.  She invited us to a devotional later that night, and then left us to close the short distance to the Tabernacle door. 

To the side, I saw groups of people move to the side as they were turned away from the Tabernacle.  An OW representative was standing by to give a supportive hug to those recently rejected. Some individuals seemed excited and relieved; others, mostly women, had tears streaming down their faces.   I sympathized with these latter women, who felt this rejection so deeply.  Jang and I unabashedly eavesdropped on the woman in front of us who, as she was turned away by the matronly usher at the door, explained that this denial by the Church would be the final one for her—she was leaving the Church.  

Then it was our turn.  Jang and I approached the kindly woman at the door.  She had been there for hours at this point, but she radiated calmness and compassion.  I had watched her sympathetically listen to the countless women and men before me, some of whom were quite emotional.   We both knew that she would have to turn us away, and I had nothing to say in protest.  So I shook her hand and thanked her for listening to all the people who had gone before me.  She apologized for having us stand in line so long with an infant, and after a little more chitchat, we were on our way.

Yes, my husband and I were turned away from the door of the Tabernacle.  Yes, if Jang had gone by himself he probably would have been let in.  But honestly, that experience was one of the most special of my life.  And I’m so glad I could share it with my wonderful, supportive husband and friend.

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Jang and I being kindly turned away from the Tabernacle.