Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I am a Member of the Mormon Church, and I am Not Afraid

I have spent a good majority of my life afraid. It has nothing to do with physical danger or of any threat to me, or anyone I love. In my youth I was afraid of looking dumb, of being made fun of (and trust me, I was a chubby redhead with freckles, glasses, AND braces – there was plenty to make fun of), or not having any friends. As I grew the fear became not having any guy like me, of disappointing my parents, of not being good enough. Upon becoming a wife and a mother I began to fear for my family. Was I a helpmate to my husband? Was I a good mother? I also feared hurting others. Having been made fun of and chastened while growing up, I knew the damage an unkind word or correction done incorrectly could do. Looking back there are so many things I wish I could undo, but that would also take away all the lessons I learned from my mistakes. 

For the most part I’ve gotten over many of those fears, in particular through the last few years. I have grown to know myself better, and appreciate my foibles as well as those things that make me awesome. I can see myself more and more through the eyes of my Heavenly Father, and know He has a plan for me. One big part of that plan is to preach the Lord’s gospel, as is my duty as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church.

Therein lie my greatest fears of today. Several months ago during a Fast and Testimony meeting I stood to bear my own testimony (or express the witnesses I had received from the Holy Ghost as to the truthfulness of the Lord’s gospel). The Holy Spirit had been working on me so hard during that entire meeting and I finally could not ignore it any longer. Before bearing my testimony I spoke of what I felt the Lord was asking me to say. You see, a trend had begun of telling many a story or experience before bearing the testimony, and often the story was longer than the testimony. One person was so focused on relating his experience by the time he began to speak to us of the testimony he'd gained he actually said the words, “Blah, blah, blah” to help relate what was supposed to be the entire point of standing up in front of the congregation.

On that Sabbath morning I stood and tried, in my imperfect way, to express the Lord’s desire: that the hour appointed to bearing one’s testimony return to it’s purpose. Stories and experiences are beautiful things, as they are what help to bring that special witness to us. But there is a time and a place for the stories, and we had forgotten this. Though the feeling in the chapel was warm, and sweet, and loving, the Spirit had to wait through the stories before it could do what it was meant to do: bear witness to the truths told by those who felt inspired to relate them.

How important is that special witness to our church? I would imagine just as important as it is in any church. Vital, even. In fact, once a month our main meeting is set aside from having regular speakers to allow those in the congregation to bear their testimonies as they feel inspired to do. Once a month! When done suitably the Holy Spirit is allowed to witness to all who are willing to listen, which not only strengthens the one standing at the microphone, but all others in the room as well. It is a beautiful, marvelous experience. One our Heavenly Father knows we need.

Let us go back to the day I stood, as prompted by the Spirit, to remind everyone of this. I know my words, my actions, did not sit well with many, and as the bishop’s wife both he and I are under major scrutiny. I also knew my husband might not be so happy with me. I even knew I might hurt those who had been at the microphone before I got up. Which is why it took me until almost the end of the meeting to finally obey, for it came down to this: whom was I more prepared to disappoint – my husband and people I love, or my Heavenly Father and my Savior?

I was terrified of the moment my husband got home, not because he’d yell or anything, but because I knew he’d feel let down by my actions. We chatted for a few minutes until I couldn’t take it any more.

“Did I do bad?” I asked.

“I don’t know, honey. I just don’t know.”

My heart broke. I began to doubt that I’d really been listening to the Spirit. Was it just me? Had I made a horrible mistake? We talked a little more and I agreed to at least apologize to those who had born their testimonies that day. Unfortunately in doing so I made one of them feel worse than if I’d just left it alone, which preyed on my more, and placed me on a cycle of self-recrimination I could not work my way out of.

I was a horrible person. I couldn’t differentiate between my own feelings and that of the Lord’s. I hurt people I purported to love. I disappointed my husband and placed him in an awkward situation that could get him in trouble with his own leaders. These thoughts and more circled through my head for days and days.

I began to try to make up for being such a wicked person. I kept telling myself, “If I just do this then it means I’m not bad.” “If I get this done then maybe I’m not so horrible.” “If I give up this and that it means I might be a good wife and mother.” By the end of the week I had myself so worked up I even had thoughts of harming myself. Because who was I to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t do? I. Was. No one.

Satan worked me over thoroughly that week. It didn’t help that my doctor had toyed a little with my depression meds to see if it would help with my constant exhaustion, but they were not the true cause of my turmoil. Things came to a head Friday evening. I’d gotten some pizza for the kids for dinner and stood in the kitchen washing dishes. My husband, who’d just woken from a nap, came in and told me I didn’t have to do those. He’d do them later. In my mind came the thought, "But if you have to do them it means I'm not doing my job. I'll have failed you again."

I couldn’t stop. My headed shook no and I refused to look him in the eye. All week long I’d been able to hide the torrential storms of emotion I’d dealt with, but no longer. When asked why I wouldn’t come eat dinner I finally admitted, “If I can just get these dishes done, maybe it’ll mean I’m a good person.”

It took some doing but he finally got me into our room and we began to talk. I still couldn’t look him in the eye and I know I frightened him with my ramblings. At one point he asked, “Does this have something to do with what I said on Sunday?” He sounded horrified, which only confirmed in my mind that which I already knew: now I’ve hurt my husband. I really was horrible!

Because we hadn’t discussed my actions since Sunday I didn’t realize he’d been thinking about it too. Granted, it was not to the extent my guilty mind had done, but he said something that offered a tiny sliver of hope in my overtaxed mind: Did you ever think the Lord asked you to do it because I didn’t have the courage to do it myself?

It was the first mention that maybe, just maybe, I hadn’t goofed up as royally as I’d convinced myself. My husband, the sweet, remarkable, amazing man, then picked up the phone and called my parents to come down. My mother held me in her arms as we discussed what I’d been through that week, and gave voice to the words that maybe, just maybe, I was simply a soft-hearted woman who didn’t want to hurt those I love. When I’d calmed down more my father placed his hands on my head, along with my husband, and gave me a priesthood blessing.

Therein was my grace, the balm to my aching soul. I was told, in words that could not be mixed up, twisted, or doubted, that I had done exactly as He had wanted me to do.

I honestly don’t recall anything else from that blessing, but it’s okay. That was all I needed. Turns out I wasn’t a horrible person. Turns out I wasn’t imposing my own thoughts on Him and attempting to pass them off as His. Turns out I had done what was right. What I’d done wrong was fearing man more than I feared God, once my task had been done.

Since that time I’ve been learning more about what it means to do that which the Lord asks of me without fearing the outcome. I still struggle with what is me being a passionate person, and what is of the Lord or the Father. Perhaps I always will.

This morning I had the opportunity to attend one of the sacred temples here in Utah. From the moment I awoke there was an intense feeling of happiness at the thought of going. In the car on my way there I couldn’t stop tears from forming, my happiness was truly so complete. A part of me knew there was Someone who loved me deeply by my side, though I could not say whom that Someone might have been. Nothing grand occurred during my time at the temple, no angelic visitations or life-changing revelations as I might suppose would occur with such remarkable feelings. It’s more what I walked away with today that has reaffirmed what I need to do with some of my time spent here at home now that the kids are all in school.

It is time to teach. I was blessed with a desire to learn, a desire at times so intense I can hardly gobble up books fast enough to quench the thirst for knowledge. I was also blessed with a gift for teaching, something I love to do and am able to accomplish in my Primary class every Sunday. But more than this I was given a gift to express myself through writing, and it is this gift especially I have been told to concentrate on.

There has been a mighty focus on the Mormon Church with Mitt Romney running for the office of President of the United States. Media, much as it may try to keep from doing so, is biased and more often than not it is biased in the negative when it comes to this church. So be it. Many out there will choose to believe what they are told by the media, or what they hear by word of mouth, much of which is not, and has not, been kind.

There will also be those who will want to know more, and it is for them I am to begin teaching in earnest about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is what was confirmed to me today while at the temple. It is time to stop being afraid. No more fearing I might offend or hurt someone by what I have to say, so long as those words I put down are inspired of the Lord. No more fearing I might disappoint anyone but my Father and my Brother, and if I am doing what I do in faith then there is no need to worry.

There are three particular subjects I’ve avoided as much as possible, due to fear, that I will attempt to address in my limited ability over the course of the next few…well, however long it takes me. Those are polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, and homosexuality. My sincere hope is that in knowing where we come from, light might be shed as to why we believe as we do, and why and when things have happened as they have.

I love my Heavenly Father. I love my Savior. I am not afraid to show this, no matter what the consequences may be. If I am to disappoint anyone, let it not be Them.

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