Friday, November 6, 2015

Learning to Trust Myself

I’ve hit this wall before. I’ve been shattered and battered and bruised before. I’fe felt the quiet whisperings in my heart that my Heavenly Father knows. He knows me. He knows you. He knows that what’s true for me may not be true for you. He knows my heart. He knows your heart.

About a year ago, I sat in a therapist’s office. He’d asked me to choose a toy from a basket that represented my anxiety and mild depression. I thought it was stupid, but I rummaged through the dolls, the plastic animals and cars and pulled out a train. He told me to give the train a name and I named it “Bully.” He then asked me to describe Bully. I saw myself on a train track standing and pushing against the weight of an oncoming train. The train had so much more power, so much more weight and ability to run me over, but I still held my ground. I stayed glued to the track. The train didn’t really know me—didn’t know I was there. It would run be over without a ripple in its path to move forward. 

Bully wasn’t my anxiety. It wasn’t my depression. Bully was the church or more specifically the way I had been feeling about the church. The church doesn’t bulldoze everyone, so don’t think I’m judging your journey if it’s working well for you. I’ve felt that way too. It wasn’t always this painful. 

But this time, I was on that track and I held my ground at all costs. I enveloped my pain and made it a part of me. I jumped through every hoop as it came along, policies that hurt others, General Conference talks that poked at my friends’ hearts, and at my heart. Things I didn’t believe began to outweigh what I did. And as I held Bully in my hands and described all that I have done to stay on the track even when it was uncomfortable for me, even when I saw my LGBT friends hurt, bloodied and bruised and even pushed out. Even when I saw others who tried to make the church work for them excommunicated. And even when what I believed started looking like something else entirely. Even through being completely misunderstood, I stayed on that train track. 

My therapist asked me a question. By now I was shaking. I was emotional. I was in pain. The question was, “What is keeping you from getting off the track?” 

If I remember right my jaw went slack. I didn’t understand the question—not really. I didn’t see myself as having a choice. What kept me on the track was Swedish ancestors who risked everything, alienation from family and friends, loss of jobs, and homeland, all to join a new church. What kept me on the track?  Mormon pioneers who sold everything for a fraction of what it was worth and crossed the plains at great hardship and loss. What kept me on the track was seeing my dad as a bishop, years of family prayer, and home evenings, primary songs, and young women’s, my mom and her faithful heart, my friends, my family, my love for all the young women I’ve taught over the years, my children, my grandchildren and their future missions and temple marriages. What kept me on the track was my own burning testimony, my own temple marriage, my good husband, our years of faithful service and the list goes on and on. 

I left the therapist’s office feeling the weight of it all. My arms are so tired. My heart is worn out. It may have been later that evening or early in the morning that an impression hit me. Bullies only have power when you let them have the power. Take back your power. 

Even as I write this. I’m still on that track. I haven’t taken back the power. I haven’t moved off the track—not entirely. One foot is still tied onto that track. I hate that its come to this once again. I am working toward trust. Trust that I can still be  an influence for good in the world and create a safe space for my gay friends and their families. I will trust that Heavenly Father will help me create my own path and let go of the weight I’ve been carrying. I will trust that eventually I will be able to step off the track. And if I desire, back on again. I trust that someday I will not take back my power—since I’m not sure I ever had it in the first place—but gain my own power with loving Heavenly parents. Then Bully and I might be able to be friends again, but for now it might be best if Bully and I don’t see each other for a while. So Bully, don't think I never loved you, I did. You sustained me for most of my life, but sometimes relationships get soured. Sometimes relationships aren't working and it takes a lot of strength to recognize that and move off the track. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jumping Topics: LDS General Conference is a Mixed Bag

For a lot of us, the LDS General Conference is a mixed bag. Every six months, I brace myself for the next topic that is used to bully or shame others. If you are active you are probably thinking that teaching gospel principles isn’t shaming, but that is what often happens. How often have you been listening to a talk and instead of thinking I wonder how this applies to me, think, I sure hope so and so is listening to this. Imagine what conference time is like for our LGBT brothers and sisters. I know many mothers of LGBT children who every six months hope and pray for a thread of compassion toward their children and the community that they’ve come to understand and love so well. These mothers are the some of the most faithful, beautiful, loving people I have ever had the privilege to know. And so are their children. This conference was particularly heartbreaking for them. 

Last Saturday, I had a whole slate of activities planned for our grandchildren—but since it was conference, we dyed the eggs, had brunch, and had an Easter egg hunt around conference time. I was fine with that. If I expect my family to respect where I’m at, then I need to reciprocate. See, conference causes me a lot of anxiety, some mild depression, and downright hopelessness. If you’ve never been in my shoes, I don’t expect you to understand. I am not gay, nor is any close relative (that I know of—yet) but I have friends who are gay themselves, or a parent one or more LGBT children. It’s vastly important to me that we work to save lives, stop shaming, and allow these wonderful people to not just exist, but to thrive—in every sense of that word.

So to reduce the risk of ruining my day and damaging my heart, I didn’t watch or listen to conference on Saturday, even though my newly baptized grandson was really bothered that I didn’t. Of course, I couldn’t explain my reasons, and I might need to ask his parents how they would like me to respond next time. Instead I just said, because i don’t want to. It didn’t take long for me to find out that the self-care I chose was the right course. There were some disheartening messages for the LGBT community and for people like me on Saturday. 

 Now if you are still with me, as I said in the beginning, conference is a mixed bag. On Easter Sunday, my husband and I were on our way to Yellowstone, so we decided to give listening to the 10 am session a try—we could always turn it off if we had to. To my surprise, we listened to the whole thing.  

Finally, some legitimacy for people like me—the doubters. Sister Rosemary Wixom’s talk could have been written about me, almost exactly except for the young mother part and the recovery part. That is still an ongoing journey. There was much I really appreciated about her talk about a woman who had lost her faith. Here are some highlights. 

“I did not separate myself from the Church because of bad behavior, spiritual apathy, looking for an excuse not to live the commandments, or searching for an easy out. I felt I needed the answer to the question ‘What do I really believe?’”

This is me in a nutshell. For far too long people like me with serious concerns and questions about the church have been told that they must be doing something wrong. They are told that they only need to get on their knees and pray for answers. They are told to double down and read their scriptures, pray harder, and attend the temple. I was told that almost word for word. They are told that the only legitimate place to find answers is in the scriptures. And that the only reason people leave the church is because either they are sinning or have been offended. As an earnest seeker, I find those ideas offensive. I also find it offensive when someone is asked to get off the ship because they are unsure of the currents or stormy sea, or because they have questions about the proper course of their journey. Even more difficult is when we see others thrown or pushed out even when they are desperately trying to hold on. While I understand why some will wonder why doubters and those less satisfied stay in the church, it isn't helpful to ask us to find another religion, or to just leave. And I'm not at all sure that that's what the Savior's response would be. The issue is much too complicated. I often disagree with my family, but they are family and my love for them remains. The church community is similar. 

2. “With the spirit of inquiry, this mother continued to ask questions. But as the questions grew harder, so did the answers. And sometimes there were no answers—or no answers that brought peace. Eventually, as she sought to find answers, more and more questions arose, and she began to question some of the very foundations of her faith.”

Again, this is me. What earnest seekers in the church also find is that there are no legitimate places to ask our questions. Some of us still hope for a safe zone at church where true feelings can be shared, and deep questions can be asked, and possible answers discussed and explored. There might be pockets in the church where this is happening, but for the most part, those places are not found within the walls of a church building. And in not wanting to upset others with our concerns there are few places or people to lean on. Most bishops, even the best-hearted and most knowledgeable  ones are not equipped to handle a doubting member. However, offering support, trust, and love is possible and is sometimes the only thing we need while we dig deep in our search. 

3. “My parents knew my heart and allowed me space. They chose to love me while I was trying to figure it out for myself.” Likewise, this young mother’s bishop often met with her and spoke of his confidence in her.

Ward members also did not hesitate to give love, and she felt included. Her ward was not a place to put on a perfect face; it was a place of nurture.

My hope is that her parents would love her not just while she tried to figure it out, but even if the conclusion was to not return to full activity. Again, this is almost me. While I haven’t shared my burden with my mother, I know she would allow me space and love if I did. 
 And even though I didn’t get this kind of support or confidence from my current bishop, I have received it from other leaders, both past and present, friends, and family members in the church. My current stake president was a very empathic listener even though he didn’t understand my issues, nor could he answer my questions. It was enough for me that even though he’d never met me before, he trusted my own judgment as to what I needed. Another gracious thing he did was to tell me that there was nothing wrong with questioning and that if I found the answers to give him a call because he would love to know them, too.  

While I think, this woman has an exceptional ward, so do I. Many in my ward, know of my struggles because I’ve been open about them. And almost without exception, they’ve been kind and supportive. Some have shared with me their own doubts and while others don’t understand exactly what my concerns are, they still show me that they care. Recently I attended Relief Society a couple of times and each time reached out to a different sister. I was honest, “Can I sit by you? I need help managing my anxiety.” Even though they most likely didn’t understand the cause of my anxiety, they both were more than willing to be the support I needed on those two occasions. 

Some of my best friends have either left the church, or aren’t members at all, and other friends are what could be described as True Believing Mormons.  I’ve received support from friends on all sides. Friends who know and value the individual journey. True friendship shouldn’t have an agenda. Fortunately my friends who have left the church have not rooted for the end of my faith. Friends who aren’t members have been valuable resources of strength. They’ve allowed me a place to safely vent. I so appreciate the friends and family that I have in the church who honor the space that I need. One of my brothers said, “You’ll figure this out.” In other words, all will be well. 

4. She learned that when she came up against a statement that caused her to doubt, she “could stop, look at the whole picture, and make the gospel personal.” She said, “I would ask, ‘Is this the right path for me and my family?’

Here again is honoring and respecting our personal interpretation and revelation. To me this means even if a friend or family member leaves the church for a season, or even permanently—please don’t assume they are lost. Most of my friends who are no longer active in church are more at peace because they are following an authentic path. God is often still a part of their lives. Spirituality can flourish outside of the church as well as inside. Insisting that this isn’t true isn’t helpful or supportive, and especially isn’t respectful of our wonderful friends and family outside of Mormonism. 

5. She included this quote from President Dieter F. Uctdort. “We are all pilgrims seeking God’s light as we journey on the path of discipleship. We do not condemn others for the amount of light they may or may not have; rather, we nourish and encourage all light until it grows clear, bright, and true.”

Oh, how I love this and love this man. Somehow he manages to be a healing balm nearly every time I hear him speak. If you haven’t already read this gem on What is Truth, it’s well worth it. 

Here’s the thing, we should always be pulling for others to find the best path for them to thrive. I have a good friend who has left the church and she tells me that sometimes when others corner her and bear testimony to her, it can feel like an assault. Friends don’t gang up on each other, instead they encourage us to become our best selves. I’m still hoping for a kinder, gentler church, one that doesn’t pit us against each other. Take some time to get to know your LGBT brothers and sisters, friends, family, and neighbors. Walk a mile in their shoes—not to change them—but to learn from them. I guarantee you will be better for it. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Honoring some of the Females in My Life on Relief Society's Birthday

To celebrate the birthday of Relief Society this year, I decided to blog about some of the women who are or who have been closest to me in terms of family relations. This means that I will be leaving out some my closest women friends of which there are amazing, beautiful souls. So in no particular order.

Grandma Anderson: (My mom's mom) Generosity. If there isn't a good reason to say no, say yes. When I was about 12 or so, I wanted to go ice skating. In Provo there was an amazing ice skating rink called the Winter Gardens. The building was shaped like a turtle shell. It was huge, too. When we got tired of skating, we could warm up by the fire, or have a snack. Many will remember that it was later turned into a Macey's grocery store before being torn down completely. 

Well, I asked if I could go with some friends and my parents immediate response was not today. They didn't really have a great reason, from my point of view. And I admit, I would be upset as a parent, if the grandparent stepped in and undermined me, but that's what she did. I remember that she intervened and asked my parents why I couldn't go. She'd said, if I was ever going to be a good skater, I needed to go as often as possible and that it was good for me no matter what. I'm pretty sure she offered to pay. She very often handed out money when she visited. Needless to say, I got to go skating.

Plus she'd ask me what I wanted as far as her crocheting went. She made me slippers and several ponchos. They were actually popular in those days. Grandma was generous and kind. Generous with time, praise, gifts, money, and her exceptional even tempered personality. 

Nana Thayne: (Dad's Mom) Faith. When I was about 17, I stayed a couple of nights with my Grandma. This was unusual for me. Most of the other grandkids stayed with her often, but our family lived a ways away, and didn't hang out there much. So it was the first chance I had at really getting to know her. I knew she had asthma because she always carried around an atomizer in her big purse. One of the nights that I was there she went to bed in a room next to the guest room (the study with the pullout bed) and I could hear her wheezing in the next room. I finally got up to check on her and she was lying sideways with her feet sticking off the edge of her high bed. I asked what I could do and she said to call the elders. She told me to call her neighbor and ask her to get hold of someone from the ward. It must have been around midnight when they came, but they seemed more than happy to be there. Ready to serve. Happy to help. After they left, her labored breathing calmed and she slept through the night. Another thing I remember about her is that she believed that her dreams held answers for life. A visionary woman.

Mom: Grace. Not in the religious sense, though she is very faithful in her religion, but in the sense that she offers grace to everyone she knows, meaning she believes in the inherent goodness of people.  She assumes the best. I can safely say, I never heard my mother gossip about anyone in my growing up years. And if I tried to tell her a scandalous story, she seemed completely uninterested or offered an explanation of some kind, or that I shouldn't believe what I hear, or that there might be a reason for it. And most importantly, not to hold a grudge. She treats everyone with respect and kindness and nearly everyone treats her that way too.

Mother-in-law Ruth: I miss her. Read! Not only did she have a great education in a day when not many women from rural Utah did, but she continued learning and reading to the day she died. Whenever we would visit, there would be a book or two or three opened face down on the table next to her recliner. It doesn't seem like she used book marks though I could be wrong. The fact that she read and enjoyed, and bought and passed around copies of my novels was a great compliment to me. Her knowledge of the world was vast and there wasn't any subject that she couldn't talk about with at least some degree of knowledge. A truly brilliant woman.

Daughter GingerAdventure and courage. I once asked Ginger if she was ever scared, and she said "sometimes I am scared to death, but I just do it anyway." It over the yearincludes, to name only a few: rock climbing, bungee jumping, scuba diving, traveling nearly all over the world, living most often by herself in Central and South America, Denmark, San Francisco, and New York where she opened and ran her own restaurant, and now is learning Yoga in India. Take life and go. Anything is possible with enough desire and hard work. Make your own luck. Dreams can come true. A little courage goes a long way. Be confident and smile, you've got this. And she does. She has life by the tail.

Daughter-in-law Joanna: We won the lottery when it comes to our daughter-in-law, and there's a lot I could say about her as a wonderful mother and wife, but the trait that I'm trying to learn from her is diplomacy. As someone who sometimes speaks too quickly out of impatience, anger, frustration, hurt, or defense, I'd rather learn to hold my tongue, or when needed engage in a thoughtful meaningful way. Case in point. A couple of years ago, we attended an LDS branch near our cabin in Montana. There was a Relief Society lesson that was given that was not only racist, but railed on these "terrible feminist women who want the priesthood." At the time, I was in a place of deep hurt in regards to my faith. This lesson was not what I needed. Joanna raised her hand, and gently offered an alternative perspective about where a woman who wants the priesthood might be coming from and that always we should not judge the motivations of others, and to remember the Savior's example of love. Well, it calmed my heart. I whispered to her that she was my hero. Whenever, I'm able to calmly offer a loving response even when someone is triggering me, I call it being able to do a Joanna.

Granddaughter: Be authentic. She's only six, but she knows herself quite well. When she was five, she asked me if she could be something besides a mother. I told her she could and she said that her brother told her she if she was a mother she could be nothing else. I said, "well your dad is a teacher and father. Your mom teaches exercise classes besides being a mother." She said, well I want to be and listed five or six things that she wanted to be. I told her that was really great and that I was sure she could be those things. When we were back in the car, I said, I think it's great that granddaughter wants to be everything. She piped up, "I didn't say I want to be everything, I said that I want to be everything that I want to be." I loved that distinction. How silly to think or even want to be everything--there are far too many options. But to be what you really want to be--well that's pretty doable. What a great start she has. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Letting Go of George

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George Castanza is  obsessed with everyone liking him, especially Jerry’s girlfriend. He tried so hard to be funny, to be helpful, and to be nice in an effort to please. He was deeply troubled when he found out that Jerry’s girlfriend didn’t like him. So then in an effort to win her over, he over compensated, and doubled his efforts. In one scene he lamented. “Why doesn’t she like me?” And Jerry’s response was something along the lines of, not everyone has to like you George. But George insisted that everyone must like him. He then ruminated over every word and every action. He stopped enjoying the present. He stopped listening to his own girlfriend and in the end, he loses her admiration too. 

I believe most of us can relate to George. I like to be under the illusion that everyone likes me. And for the most part I think people do, people who really know me. But I can remember about every time when I discovered that someone didn’t. It still stings when I think about the time at girls camp at Camp Mia Shalom where I was outside of a cabin and overheard my most trusted friends talking about me negatively. When one of them came outside and saw me there, she bee-lined back in and the gossip stopped. I acted nonchalant as if I didn’t care or had even  heard. But I never felt as safe with my friends after that. 

Working towards authenticity can be a painful process. Learning to live my religion the best way I know how, not the way others would have me live it is hard. Especially when we are like George and truly want to be liked—not just by those who already do—but by everyone. But often if we worry so much about what others think we end up squelching who we are. We silence our voice and we snuff out our own light and if we carry it far enough, we might end up not pleasing anyone, especially ourselves. How often do we stick our necks out and share something that has become a truth for us. And then when we do and someone criticizes it, we are like the turtle who pulls back into his shell, afraid to show our true selves again. 

It’s quite possible that the only voice we listen to is the one who shoots us down, instead of those who respect our vulnerability. It is possible to respect someone while disagreeing with someone. Honoring others experiences and truths and realizing that everyone sees through the lens of their lives differently is essential to friendship and understanding differences. 

I am often that thirteen-year-old girl sitting outside of the cabin. I still really want to fit in, and like George be liked by everyone, and am still hurt when I find out that friends are talking about me in less than flattering terms. Years ago I sat in a bishop’s office and shared some painful baggage I’d been carrying. The baggage was one of doubt—doubt about the church I’d been raised in. Like a good shepherd, he respected where I was at, and observed that I might care too much what people think about me. Before this bishop was released he would occasionally remind me that I was okay. And to not worry and do what I needed to do. I’ve come to find out years later, that he was right. 

I used to hear the adage carries their heart on their sleeve. I didn’t know until my 50’s that it describes me. When we have a wound, it’s often a good idea to pull off the bandage occasionally and let it air out. But in self-protecting we want to cover our blemishes, hide our wounds, and hide our flaws. Once I shared my burden of doubt with a leader who hadn’t yet earned my trust, and who didn’t know me. But I shared anyway hoping to be understood and when I was not respected, I ended up feeling betrayed and hurt. It took me a long time to stick my neck out again. But eventually when I spoke up, I found new friends because of it. I found others sharing their vulnerable truths with me.  And my old friends who already knew the real me continued to be there for me. As much as I love the guy, someday I will learn to let go of George Castanza. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Drawing Circles. My Defense of John Dehlin

Outwitted by Edwin Markham

He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

There might be reasons to excommunicate someone from a church, though I'm not sure what those reasons might be I will tell you what I believe they are not. Being honest and authentic by allowing others to tell about their Mormon experience is not a good reason. Believing that marriage between two adults is a civil right that should be extended to all is not a good reason. Believing that women should have full equality in a church is not a good reason. Earnestly seeking answers is not a good reason. Striving diligently to minister to the disenfranchised is not a good reason.

So those of you who don't know John Dehlin or what the hullabaloo is all about, I will share my own limited knowledge of John. But even with limited knowledge, I know enough to know that he does not deserve the dogged determination of leaders who are drawing a circle to shut him out. I met John about seven years ago. We've had lunch a few times and socialized in small groups. I've attended a six-week workshop designed to help those struggling with a faith transition or crisis. I've listened for years to his podcasts which deal with members of the church across the spectrum including very faithful, true believing Mormons such as Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens to gay Mormons to those who have left the church. Some of these have increased my faith while others have caused me to ponder more deeply the questions I already have. But what I have found from John is that he is extremely fair. He respects his listeners enough and his interviewees enough to let them draw their own conclusions. 

In the workshop I participated in, John was the discussion leader. He explained how normal it is to have various stages of faith and belief. He helped us to know that we could get through this and be better off for it. What he didn't do was advocate to anyone that they should leave their religion--nor did he do this even when I spoke with him individually. What I know of John is that he loves people. He loves them enough that when he saw so much suffering amongst some in the LDS community because of difficulties in the religion, he changed course and pursued his doctorate in psychology. 

I don't believe the church will gain anything from purging progressives. I know thousands of people who will feel less like participating if he is excommunicated, not because they idolize him, but because he reached out when they felt like they didn't belong. He has carved out a niche for many Mormons and given them reasons to stay. I would hope that the church which claims to have the complete truth would not be fearful of the scrutiny that comes from John and others like him. Can't we stretch our circle to draw him in?