Sunday, August 24, 2008

Compelled to be Humble

In the book of Alma (in the book of Mormon), verse 15 it states: "Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble..."

In relating this scripture to my conversion story, I sadly realized that I was compelled to be humble in order to be willing to accept the gospel. My father's death when I was 15 years old brought me to my knees. I spiraled into depression that took 2 years to lift. I felt desperate at the time to find a way out of that spiritual darkness that I find is best described by Alma the younger when he says "But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was charrowed up to the greatest degree... Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell...Oh, thought I, that I acould be banished and become extinct both soul and body" (Alma 36: bits of 12, 13 and 15). Anyone who knew me during that time knew that I was miserable, that I truly did wish to cease to exist in order to join my father whom at that time I believed didn't exist anymore.

I have wished many times that I hadn't needed his death to turn me to the questions that drove me to learn more about the LDS Church and its doctrines. How I have wished that when I was first introduced to the church at 14 years old that I had desired to learn about it then, instead of being compelled (as I see it) after my father's death.

And yet I have realized that I needed that event to occur in my life in order for me to be humble, to repent and be baptized. However if I could trade having my father back in my life (even though we didn't have a good relationship) for the last few years of testimony and Spirit in my life, I would make that trade.

But only if I could have the promise of the chance to accept the gospel at a point later in my life. And hopefully share it with my father who would accept it with me.

Thank goodness for temple work. Through making sure my father's ordinances have been completed, I strongly beleive that he has also accepted this gospel, even though it was not while he was living.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Alternate Ending to the First Vision

As a teenager I came to the same point when Joseph Smith prayed to know which church was true and which he should join. I started with the same course as he: I began learning about the different churches that I might join if I were to find the truth there. I visited my friend's churches, my grandparent's churches and I read the history of world religions. I spent 3 years with this as an intellectual pursuit where I attempted to have an open mind and be able to recognize the truth when I found it.

Through that search--what the Unitarians would call a "search for truth and meaning" I learned many valuable lessons about what I wanted to see in a church before I felt it could be the possessor of what is true. A short list includes:
2)modern-day revelation
3)God's authority to act in His name
4)opportunities for those who have never heard of the church to be redeemed
5)justice and accountablity as well as mercy for all people
6)families that could be reunited after death
7)freedom from pain and hurt after this life is over
8)the afterlife is not as black and white as heaven and hell

I honestly beleived, with how advanced our society is, and how long people have been on this earth that the truth must exist, that out of all the thousands of organizaed religions in the world, one of them must be true. So when I didn't find what I was looking for, I kept looking. Although I did give up my search of churches when I decided I would become a Unitarian Universalist reverend to dedicate my life to that search for truth.

That decision had been hasty because I hadn't investigated all of the religions in the world. At some point, I had written off all Christian churches because none of them had what I was looking for. That was before I was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It has what I was looking for and more. I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to learn about it which I did. I spent 10 months meeting with the missionaries regularly to learn about the Lord's church on the earth today, that it was restored and revealed by Him through prophets, not pieced together by groups of men.

I abandoned my goal of becoming a Unitarian minister, needless to say when I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As I pondered these events and how there were some similarities to Joseph Smith's first prayer on the subject of which church to join. I wondered what would he have done if the answer he had gone had been "none of them" and it was left at that. If the Lord hadn't then revealed to him that Joseph would become the first prophet of the restored church of Jesus Christ. And what would I have done if I had prayed to know if that Church of Jesus Chirst of Latter-day Saints was true and felt that it wasn't?

At that time in my life, I would have despaired. I was already despairing over the death of my father who made my questions concerning religion all that more poignant. Where was he? Would I see him again? Was he free from life's afflictions? At some point, I felt that the LDS church was the end of the line for me. Either it was true or it was not, and if it was not I didn't want to imagine life without it. The answers to my questions provided by the doctrines of the LDS church made so much sense to me that it couldn't not be true.

I'm sure the more pragmatic side of me would have continued my spiritual quest for truth, that I would have pursued my doctorate in divinity from one of the UU theology schools. But how grateful I am that I didn't have to. How grateful I am to know, through the verfication of the Lord's Spirit that the church is true, that Joseph Smith really was the first prophet of the restored church of Jesus Christ and that Christ really is who he says he is.

Am I the Soil or the Seed?

Last night I attened a missionary lesson whereThe investigator shared with us an audio tape recording of man, I beleive a spiritual writer (non-LDS) speaking of the inherent potential of the seed, how it is what it is and does not aspire to be anything as it follows the path programmed into it. The investigator likened himself to the seed. He was therefore on a path that he would follow but not aspiring to reach the potential he had because it was inherent within him and that it would happen without his desiring or working for it to be so.

The missionaries then referred to the parable of the seed in Matthew 13 saying that if this man was the seed, that based on his actions and experiences that he could fall into ground that would either support his growth and learning or impede it. Since, as humans, we are not seeds but have our agency to choose for ourselves, we can decide where we will cast our seed, whether into dry stony ground where we will not grow or into rich verdant soil where we are able to meet our full potential.

The parable is as follows:
3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;
4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:
5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
8 But other fell into good ground, and abrought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.
9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

My visiting teacher accompanied me and the missionaries to this meeting. She said something that got me thinking. She had once been taught that maybe it is not the parable of the seed, but rather the parable of the soil.

For me it helps to break it down by the symbols. To me, and in the context of our conversation, the symbols are as follows:
The sower: God
The seed: the word of God
The soil/sediment: our choices regarding how we nurture the word of God

As described above it could be interpreted differently where we are the seed, and the soil are the surroundings we choose to place ourselves in. Both interpretations provide useful spiritual lessons.

The lesson I got last night was that the word of God is what it is and will not change. It has the same potential for every person on this earth to change and lift their consciousness to be more perfect and like God. To me, that makes the word of God the seed. Whenever the word of God is shared or learned by another, it has same the potential to change the person's life with a knowledge of God's eternal plan for all earthly life.

Despite that the gospel has the same potential, it does not and will not always have the same likelihood of taking root and growing up within a person. Individuals, based on their thoughts, actions and words create the climate wherein that seed will attempt to grow. The hope is that all who hear will strive to be the good soil where the word of God will be nourished so it can grow and take root in that person's heart. But often a person's heart will be more like the stony ground where the seed will not be able to take dig deep root, or the thorny ground where the word will be choked out of that person's consciousness.

A person like unto the stony ground may not be interested in hearing the word taught to them, or may not want to be obligated to making the changes in his/her life that the gospel would necessitate. This is the person who does not want to know whether it is true or not for whatever reason.

A person who would be found in the thorny ground may be willing and interested in hearing the gospel preached to them, but other ideas, thoughts, activities may take their attention away from the learning process. It could be involvement in political, professional, social or religious organziations that keep a person too busy to nourish the word of God within their heart. They may be distracted by the world's meaningless activities or by the endless blare of the media.

As the only member in my family and the first in my group of friends to join the church, as well as being a ward missionary, I see that the majority of people who have the opportunity to learn of the gospel fall into the category of stony or thorny ground, while it is the minority who choose to provide the rich soil of their hearts for the nourishing of the word of God. I pray that more people in our country, society and world will be willing to nourish the word of God when it reaches their ears, that their hearts will be desirous to learn of it and experiment upon like Alma urges in the Book of Mormon.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sharing the Gospel and New Media

I graduated BYU in 2005. That was about the time that church leaders learned of an internet evil called Myspace. Bishops of singles ward warned their congregants to abstain from participation on Myspace and the site was blocked from access in the BYU library system. At the time, I rolled my eyes and thought "many things in life can be used for either good or evil and people have the freedom to choose how they will use them. I can choose to do what is good and avoid doing what is wrong. So I'm going to participate in Myspace." And I did, and still do.

(I will avoid testifying of the good aspects of Myspace.)

Then in 2007, I heard that an apostle has given a talk at a BYU devotional stating that church members are encouraged to use "new media" (i.e. blogs and social networking sites) to share the gospel with others. In fact, this month's cover story in the Ensign may have been adapted from that talk. The Apostle M. Russel Ballard discusses member's opportunities to share the gospel using the internet. He shares what members can do, as well as provides words of caution to members of thing they should avoid.

I felt vindicated.

I also wondered if any of those bishops at BYU were still presiding over wards and felt they had to rescind their words about the "evils of Myspace." I wonder what their reactions to the apostles words were and how they responded to being wrong. And, have any statements been issued in BYU wards on the topic?

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

Last month, I was lucky to spend 3 weeks in Hawaii with my best friend from elementary school. She and I have remained friends through a number of hardships that both of us have experienced. Our friendship weathered my conversion to the LDS church, as she became more and more nonreligious.

During our trip together, we discussed some of the theological issues that we have considered. My friend's biggest question and concern about religion and theology was the question, "If God loves us so much, why does he let bad things happen to good people?" I sensed it wasn't the right time to launch into a discussion of the LDS answer to that question, but I offered to share an answer at a later time if she was interested.

After returning from our trip, I ran across a copy of the book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" written by Harold S. Kushner, a Jewish Rabbi. He shares his personal theology on why there is suffering in this world and God's responses to it. A summary of his main points follows:
1) God is obligated and required to respect the moral freedom of man to choose. Therefore some people make bad choices which hurt and causes others to suffer. God cannot stop this suffering.

2)In the creation, God made order out of chaos but some chaos remains in this life. Therefore some human suffering happens as a result of chance--mere randomness. Maybe in time, the Spirit of God will bring order out of the chaos. Chaos is not the will of God but an aspect of reality that stands independent of His will.

3) Laws of nature are ordained by God and cause problems that lead to human suffering. Gravity makes people fall and get hurt. God does not cause these problem to happen and does not have the power to stop it.

According to Kushner, basically good people's suffering is not caused by God. It is not punishment for sins in this life (yours or your relatives). It is not to teach people to be better followers of God and it is not a test to see if his followers will be faithful. And ultimately, death is not intended in God's plan to liberate us from the suffering of this life.

Kushner's main point in the midst of his discussion is that no matter the cause of our suffering, it is God who offers us the help we need to deal with our suffering. The author testifies of that help that God gives.

While I agree that Heavenly Father has the power to comfort and help us in times of suffering and grief (and I have been the recipient of that succor many times), my understandings of the doctrines of Latter-day Saint theology does not let me accept his explanations for the causes of human suffering.

Modern-day scripture reveals: "saints to learn obedience by the things they suffer (D&C 105:6)", "saints to reap eternal joy for all their suffering (D&C 109:76)", "know thy son that these things [afflictions] shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7)", "all things shall work together for your good (D&C 90:24, 98:3,100:15 and 105:40)", "God shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain (2 Nephi 2:2)", and "many are softened because of their affliction (D&C 62:41). These indicate that God indeed does intend that people will learn and be rewarded for their suffering.

I know that it has been through suffering that I have learned some of the most important lessons in life and I have benefited from them (my conversion story is evidence of that). But when in the midst of affliction and trial, I am not comforted by that knowledge of God's will and often I am very resentful. It comes "after the rain" that I can see the purpose of the suffering and reap the benefits of the lessons learned.

The Latter-day Saint scriptures also substantiate Kushner's claim others claims but those will have to be saved for another blog, another night.

This is a topic that I will continue to study and pray about seeking understanding to Heavenly Father's plan and purpose for suffering in this life. It is such a large topic that a book in response to Kushner's from the LDS perspective could be written, and I will be searching LDS publications to find one that fully discusses the topic, of which I'm sure there are quite a few.

Friday, May 30, 2008

10 Favorite Scriptures

1. Rev. 21: 4-5
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there share be no more death, neither sorrow neither crying neither shall their be any more pain: for the former things are past away. And he that sat upon his throne said unto me: I make all things new. And he said unto me: Write for these words are true and faithful."

2. Moses 7:63
"And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;"

3.2 Nephi 32:3 and 5
"Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will dtell you all things what ye should do.

For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. "

4. 2 Nephi 31:20
" Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a cove of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. "

5.Doctrine and Covenants 128:15
"Let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation as Paul says concerning the fathers- that they without us cannot be made perfect- neither can we without our dead be made perfect."

6.Doctrine and Covenants 121: 41-46
"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by dlong-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy cconfidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever."

7.Doctrine and Covenants 121: 7-8
"My son, peace be unto your soul, thine adversity and thine affliction and shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God will exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all they foes."

8. Doctrine and Covenants 90:24
"Search diligently, pray always and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another."

9. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
"And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye our of the best books, words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."

10. Moroni 9:6
"And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness and rest our souls in the kingdom of God."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Healing from Abuse Through the Atonement

During this afternoon's session of General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott spoke on the the power of the atonement to heal abuse victims, as well as those who are guilty of perpetrating the abuse.

His opening words immediately brought to my mind the thoughts I've had recently about the church's responsibility to address some social ills. To be honest, his words got my hopes up that he would be specifically addressing the social ill that has been most salient to me in the last year. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I heard that he would be speaking to abuse victims, because he was speaking directly to me.

Elder Scott went on to describe the process of healing after abuse, which included counseling with priesthood authorities (bishop, stake president) praying for healing and forgiveness from the Lord, and sometimes meeting with trained professionals who are specialized in helping people overcome abuse.

He also explained the responsibility of priesthood holders when they hear of abuse. I was surprised to hear the Elder Hales recommended that bishops, in addition to assisting the victims, are to report the perpetrators to civil and ecclesiastical authorities. In the case of childhood sexual abuse, I understand that bishops are to act as mandated reporters, just as I would as a preschool teacher; however, I didn't know it would apply to other situations of abuse as well. In mine, I don't expect that my bishop will make any type of report, but I can't help but wish that he would.

In regards to those who perpetrate abuse, Elder Scott spoke strongly and truthfully to them, saying that they need to repent and can have hope in Christ through their willingness to be changed and forgiven, by both God and their victims.

The Apostle's words were comforting to me in that I was able to see that I have been succesful of employing his counsel for healing. I almost feel bad for Elder Scott because he was careful to say that he didn't want his words to bring up any past hurts or memories of abuse, and in my case, he has, even though I have been given greater hope and peace from his words.

13 million members!

My favorite part of General Conference has always been the Church Statistical Report presented at each Saturday afternoon session of April General Conference. So unfortunately, I'm also a little let down in October when there is no Statistical Report.

Here is the report for this year (as of Dec 31, 2007):
stakes in the church: 2,790
missions: 348
districts: 618
wards/branches: 27,827

membership: 13,193,999
children of record born in 2007: 93,698*
convert baptisms: 279,218

missionaries: 52,686
dedicated temples: 124
One temple was rededicated in the year of 2007. No new temples were dedicated.

When I joined the church in 2001, there were 11 million members and I was so excited at the 2002 April Conference to know that I was counted in the number of convert baptisms and also the membership of the church. In 6 years, there have been over 2 million new members. I was also excited to hear in 2004 that another million had been added to the rolls, as this means that there have been many others who have come to have a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ like I did.

*Willem is included in this number as he was born in 2007. He and the other 29 babies born into my ward in the last year.

And once again, I'll report that Wikipedia was updated before the end of the conference session where the report was given.

New Apostle Called

In today's morning session of General Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson was called as the newest Apostle in the Quorum the the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I find this amusing...the wikipedia entry on him was already updated within a hour of the end of the session stating his call as an Apostle.

Here is the link to the wikipedia entry for a biography of Elder Christofferson.

In trying to learn more about him, I looked at this interview from a reporter at Reuters.

The reporter made sure to ask some of the hardest questions about the LDS Church, including will women receive the priesthood, are LDS men able to be sealed to more than one woman, what is the church's relationship to politics, and his personal beliefs on evolution.

I'm proud to say that I think Elder Christofferson answered unequivocally and honestly in all cases. Some answers would better than others, but they all addressed the question directed and answered it with either a Yes, No or I don't know.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

Reuter's reporter: Do you believe in Evolution?

Elder Christofferson: I don't know. That's a very intriguing question. I can't think of a doctrinal statement by the church on evolution. We do believe certainly in a divine hand in creation. And one of our scriptures says there is a lot yet to be revealed.There's not much that's frankly been revealed on the religious side regarding it. You've got a basic account of creation over different periods - we're not talking necessarily about 24 hour days but periods in which God directed creation. The hows, the details, I don't know, to be honest with you. We don't claim to know.

REUTERS: Are there documents about the church's history that are purposely being concealed from the public, hidden in archives or vaults, as some historians assert? If so, what are these?

Elder Christofferson:I don't know if every document ever produced that's not private and confidential has ever been published, I'm not sure. There is no particular effort to hide things that could legitimately be public just because that never works. Somehow it always comes out, so what's the point? So there's not a hidden secret vault of things that contradict what we teach as far as the church's history is concerned or other things that we are afraid of seeing the light of day. That's not true. But there are confidential records, that sort of thing. Some of them are deemed confidential for the rights of individuals. We have disciplinary councils of the church

I am confident to say there is no secret document that would blow the church out of the water that's been held at a secret vault.

REUTERS: Does the LDS church believe that the second coming of Christ is imminent? Is that an accurate characterization?

CHRISTOFFERSON: Probably not in the way most people understand imminent. One of the prophesies that you find in the New Testament, Matthew, is that the Gospel has to be preached in all the world before that happens. We're making every effort to do that but we're far from accomplishing it. There are places where you can't go, period. There are other places where we are in an infant stage, so to speak, in that process. So we don't pretend to know but we think it's some years away.

REUTERS: The Woodruff Manifesto, which banned polygamy in 1890, never revoked section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants - Joseph Smith's 1843 revelation on plural marriage - why?

CHRISTOFFERSON: It's consistent with biblical teaching, with Book of Mormon teaching, and that is to say, to use computer language, the default mode is monogamy. That was divinely established at the beginning of time with Adam and Eve and it continues unless God for His own purposes, for whatever reason, permits, or authorizes or directs in this case the practice of plural marriage, and there have been times when He has, if you look at Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the old patriarchs of the Old Testament. And this instance here in the early (LDS) church history.

As I said earlier, we believe in this continuing flow of revelation and it's His right to authorize or de-authorize - to turn it on or turn it off. But unless God were to specifically reveal to the Prophet this must be done at this time, it's not, it's wrong without his direction.

I have also found one Conference talk of his given at the Oct 2000 conference where he addresses the question, "What is the destiny of the countless billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus?" Its a hard one, and one that had kept me from joining other Christian churches because I wasn't satisfied with their answers. It was the LDS Church with its doctrines of baptism and salvation for the dead that allowed me to believe in the necessity for all people to be baptised to enter into the Kingdom of God.

In that talk he also describes a doctrinal question that had puzzled my husband for a few years: How was the Savior able to take upon our sins and redeem us while simultaneously meeting the demands of justice? Elder Christofferson states, '"The principle of vicarious service should not seem strange to any Christian. In the baptism of a living person, the officiator acts, by proxy, in place of the Savior. And is it not the central tenet of our faith that Christ's sacrifice atones for our sins by vicariously satisfying the demands of justice for us? As President Gordon B. Hinckley has expressed: "I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle."'

From this much that I have read of his words, I see the Elder Christofferson is a man of everyday language but a deep and abiding understanding of the gospel, doctrines and history of the Church. I'm pleased that he is the newest apostle and I look forward to hearing his words and counsel at future church meetings.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Top 10 Favorite LDS Hymns

These do not necessarily appear in the order that I like them most. Even picking 10 of the over 300 hymsn in the LDS hymn book is hard for me to do, but I've selected 10 of my favorites and shared them here.

1. I Know that My Redeemer Lives (Hymn 136)

I frequently sing this song as a lullaby to my baby. Its refrain, as a result, is constantly in my mind and I hear the lyrics of "He lives to wipe away my tears, he lives to calm my troubled heart" and I'm given comfort that it was my Savior who did just that for me when I was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And now, as a mother, I am given the strength and faith to do just that for my child, while I also teach the other precious truths in this hymn.

2. How Great Thou Art (Hymn 86)

One of the parts of my testimony that is most sacred to me is my appreciation for God's creation and the earth I live on. This hymn captures my gratitude and love for my life, and my God who gave me life. I frequently sing this when I am struck by the beauty for the earth around me, while all the while feeling the pang oh homesickness knowing that this earth, however beautiful it is, is still subject to death, disease and destruction. This hymn presents this dicotomy of appreciate for the wonder of life with the hope of eternal life and the joy of being back in the presence of God.

3. For the Beauty of the Earth (Hymn 92)

This hymn was a welcome sight to me when I first sang it after my baptism. I was raised in the Unitarian Universalist religion and this hymn is also found in their hymnal. I was glad to recognize it as it was my favorite hymn from that hymn book. It like How Great Thou Art describes the wonder and appreciation for the earth on which we live, as well as underscores the importance of human and family relationships. It was for these reasons that I fondly remember singing this hymn at my grandmother's funeral at the Unitarian church she attended 4 years after my baptism into the LDS church.

4. I Need Thee Every Hour (Hymn 98)

In the six years since I became a member of the LDS Church, I have sang out (as well as inwardly) the lyrics to this hymn a number of times when I'm in need of the comfort of the Spirit of God. It remains a favorite of mine for that reason.

5. Be Still My Soul (Hymn 124)

This is another hymn that I sing when I'm in need of comfort and a reminder of the purpose of trials in life. But its not just the words of this song that make it a favorite, but its also the characteristics of the melody. To me, it is haunting with sweet cresendos of hope and light. When I sing it, I think of sunlight breaking through the dark clouds in my spirit.

6. In Our Lovely Deseret (Hymn 307)

Within the first year after my baptism, I heard this hymn sung for the first time at an Institute class. The melody is upbeat and happy. As a preschool teacher, it appeals to me because of the description of young children in the lyrics. When I hear it, I think of primary aged children all around and it makes me smile at the joy of the sight. But what got me about this hymn was the second verse, "That the children may live long and be beautiful and strong, tea and cofee and tabacoo they despise, Drink no liquor and the eat but a very little meat. They are seeking to be great and good and wise." I could not help myself but laugh at these lyrics. I was surprised (and impressed) to see such a clever rhyme about the Word of Wisdom. I still laugh when I sing it.

7. Lead, Kindly Light (Hymn 97)

As a convert to the LDS Church, I identify with the lyrics of this hymn because I know from experience the change from walking through life merely on my own direction as opposed to walking with the guidance and direction of God. I knew the darkness and gloom, and the sense of being far from home without a refuge in the world. And thn I learned where to find the light I was searching for and found the hope and peace of the gospel. I also love the description of faith in this hymn, "Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distance scene- one step enough for me." I've learned to walk in faith and face the unknown to find that my way is lit before me after I take the step into the darkness. I can have faith when encountering the bumps of life- the not knowing how or where or what to go and do next.

8. If You Could Hie to Kolob (Hymn 284)

Apart from the beautiful melody that this song has, I love it for the speculation into the creation of the earth, its part in the universe, the immensity of space and existence, as well as the infinity of eternity. These are the aspects of the gospel that make my mind hurt if I think about them too long, but they are what I yearn to understand when I am capable of it. It is this that drives my interest in astronomy and wanting to understand as much as I can about life and God while I'm alive. The hymn reminds me again of my desire to in some ways be done with this life so I can be with God again and get all the answers to my questions that cannot be answered by man on earth and which have not and will not be revealed.

9. Oh My Father (Hymn 292)

A theme is emerging through this list of my favorite hymns, and that is the desire of my heart to return to live with God after this life is over. I truly do want "to regain thy presence and again behold they face." I must remember however that I will not be able to do so until I've "completed all you sent me forth to do" so that "with your mutual approbation, Let me come and dwell with you." I also love this hymn because it mentions the LDS belief of Heavenly Mother by stating, "In the heav'ns are parents single? No the thought makes reason stare. Truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I've a mother there." That's another burning question (or series of) that I desire to learn more about.

10.There is Sunshine in My Soul Today (Hymn 227)

As I stated previously, I felt that my conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ rescued me from figurative darkness and gloom. So while Lead, Kindly Light may be a reminder of that, the hymn There is Sunshine in My Soul Today is my feelings of coming out on the other side of that change in my life. When I sing this song it is with joy in finding the gospel and gratitude for the happy, joyfilled moments of living of the gospel. Whenever I sing it, however, I make one slight change in the words. The refrain ends, "When Jesus shows his smiling face, there is sunshine in the soul," but I sing it "there in sunshine in MY soul."

The Accomplice to My Shame

I realize now.
I live in a climate of willfull ignorance, refusing to be aware.
Instead, hiding behind my excuses.
"I didn't know."
"I was just doing what I was told."
But now I know.
I will not do what I'm told.
Because what I was told is not right.
The abuses against the vulnerable,
the women heavy with new life,
ought to be called crimes against humanity.
But now I know,
I'm not the victim.
I am an accomplice.
With that knowledge, a bitter, revolted wave washes over me.
I cannot have peace knowing this is what I did to myself.
My own refusal to be more aware, to find what I needed to know--
Its out there, because I've found it now--
has made me the unknowing partner in the abuse
that left me damaged and weak.
After the hurt, I had a choice.
I could have desired to not know.
Never to acknowledge my part in it.
I could have blamed everyone else besides me and say,
"I was victim to my circumstance. They were wrong and I couldn't have known."
And then become a self-indulgent coward.
Participating in the type of cowardice that makes it possible for people to allow and participate in all the injustices and crimes of the world.
Perpetuating abuse by turning a blind eye.
But I learned.
Choosing to be unaware of another's suffering,
even my own, is no excuse for inaction.
I cannot chose willful ignores that exonerates me from culpability,
releasing me into a stupor of cowardice and irresponsibility.
I am facing the part of my blame.
Taking responsibility for my ignorance and inaction.
With this insight, I can choose to not be a victim again.
I will not let that abuse happen to me
And will work so that it does not happen to others.
I am aware. Now I know.
I will no longer be an accomplice to my shame.

This poem was inspired by the text from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the commentary of it written by Jean-Yves LeLoup. The text is written:
Then it entered into the third climate
known as Ignorance.
Ingornance inquired of the soul:
'Where are you going?
You are dominated by wicked inclinations.
Indeed, you lack discrimination, and you are enslaved.'

I feel that consquence of PTSD after childbirth, was in large part caused by my "wicked inclination" to avoid responsibility for the birth my child and hand it over to those who would take the responsibility upon themselves who for fear of culpability and litigation would act conservatively and agressively when treating my pregnancy and child. I did not have or did not seek out the discrimination (another word being discernment)to learn what my responsibility and role in birthing my child would be. I had false assumptions of my responsibility, my provider's responsibility and the roles we could play respectively. Because I did not take the time to make myself aware of the realities of birthing in a hospital environment, I became enslaved to their policies, their time schedule, their need to clear beds out quickly. And because of my ignorance, which is some ways could be labeled willful, I became one of the causes to my hurt. In the end, I was an accomplise because I did not seek out the information to make more appropriate decisions.

After my child's birth, I turned to research and publications about appropriate labor support and found that the information was out there that would have told me to avoid the controlling, rigid hospital environment for the birth of my child. I found that information after the fact and realized I hadn't educated myself and take the responsibility I needed to in order to prevent the abuse that was perpetuated against me. Of course, I know better now, so I can make different choices in subsequent pregnancies. I also have a level of empathy for other women who may have experienced similar feelings of rape, and control over their bodies in a sensitive and vulnerable time.

The experience also gave me an understanding of the power of God to create and bring forth life, the love he has for his children, and the awesomeness of life and existence. I have increased faith in God's processes of how babies are born, and the inate ability of the women of God to birth babies in love, gentleness and joy, all the while, experience the stuggle and labor of childbirth. The act of birthing a child is so very awe inspiring with the contradiction of love and joy in the midst of pain, and struggle. It is a real world example of the principle of the gospel states that we must know pain and suffering to understand happiness and joy, or else remain in total innocence knowing neither.

The Fruit of the Tree of Life

walked through wide open fields, mists of fog, along a flowing river,
until I came to a path that ran straight and true.
Culminating in a hill topped with a tree,
laden with heavy fruit.
It was pure and ripe, full of sweetness in its plump rosy flesh.
Delicious to the taste, desirable above all other fruits.
The fruit therof promised new life, full of wonder.
Ripe for the picking.

As I looked across the expanse of the hilltop,
I saw families gathering.
Fathers supporting mothers who like the tree were heavy laden and round.
Children watched as the process of new life unfolded before them.
Mothers leaned into their husbands,
and clinging, found support from a rod of iron leading to the tree.
A few looked distracted, their attention pulled from their task.

I followed their gaze to a large building off in the distance.
From the windows of the building, women leaned jeering with IVs in their arms.
Others, bedridden, looked from their beds to the women under the shade of the tree and scoffed.
Orderlies and attendants in white and shades of blue, hands covered in latex, mouths obscured by masks, too assumed the manner of mocking those beneath the tree.

The ashamed left their pleasant spot and found the path to the spacious building
where they joined the ranks of IV inserted, bed ridden, hermetically garbed.
There they were cut open, blood pouring from their wound. The pure fruit of their womb stained and bloodied.
Once sutured, they were expelled from the building in shame and hurt.
Then drowned in the depths of their sorrow.

While those undeterred by the jeers and mockery, birthed their babies in bliss and security.
And truly came to know the deliciousness of the fruit of love.

Harmony and Healing

Be in harmony;
a musical resonance in tune with all that is.
No willing or desiring of particulars
fixated on illusions separate from the flow of life.
Finding this resonance in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.
Tuning to our adversary,
in accord with those who offend
Not to simply give in and let them have their way.
Confronting the adversary without adding to and provoking new violence.
Skillfully allowing their violence to pass through us.
Without allowing the poison of their intent to contaminate.
To awaken a consciousness within them of their own trouble.
Turning the other cheek to those who strike.
The other cheek
To offer the same would be masochism, weak acquiescence.
Instead, offering new and unexpected oppostion,
standing our ground,
refusing to be a preditable object;
one that is acted upon.
Willing to face the unavoidable friction and conflict.

Where is the harmony? Is it possible when each attempt end in conflict?
First, we must be in harmony with ourselves.
The first possibility to be in harmony with others is to be in harmony with all aspects of ourselves.
No aspect claiming superiority over another,
integrating instead of dominating.
When finding ourselves out of balance within ourselves,
not seeking indulgence, justification or self-blame.
Acknowledging inner discord: fear, panic and hurt,
then finding inspiration
through the manifestations of peace that in within ourselves;
given by the Spirit of love ebbing throughout the universe
Seeking that integration of all part of our whole, leaving nothing out.

Then once again, turning to attune the vibrations of our souls with the souls of those around us.
Finding the strength to balance and be reconciled.
To be in harmony with ourselves before trying to harmonize with the world.

This poem was insprired by a commentary written by Jean-Yves LeLoup, translator of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene into French and then English. His insights into the text of this gnostic gospel turned my thoughts to the discordant environment I found myself in when I was pregnant with my child. My prenatal care, labor support and birth experience created an adversarial environment between my health and my baby's well-being, where I sought to do what the gospels say: "Be in harmony;" "Be reconciled to thy brother;" "And unto him that smiteth thee on one cheek, offer also the other." I struggle to apply these concepts to my birthing experience, feeling that doing any other that fighting would have further traumatized and damaged me. But then to realize that through standing my ground and not being "an object to be acted upon," that I was turning the other cheek as instructed by the Savior.

At the same time I realized that I was not fully in harmony with myself going into birthing my child. I failed to integrate two important aspects of my being: intellectual preparation and spiritual reliance. Why was I shocked at the care I received at the hospital? I did not take the time to read what the maternity care system is like in the US. Knowing what I know now from my crusade as a birth activist could have prevented the heartache I experienced because I probably would have made different choices regarding the care providers I worked with. Also, I went into labor trusting my body and surrenduring to the natural process of birth. I only acknowledged the aspect of will and body in my being, but left out the spirit. Once again I didn't take the time to do what was necessary: to turn to my God who gave me life, the life that is my own and the life of my unborn child. I failed to "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding." If I had done so, I would have been more prepared and stronger in facing the birthing environment and care providers there.

How I Came to Be Jenneology

I was introduced to the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through my dad. He was a substitute teacher in the local school system and was told by one of his students about a show for a performing company for children and teenagers. I was hesitant to go because earlier that year my dad and I had had a falling out. I knew that this was his attempt at reconciliation. I am so glad that I went to that performance. I knew that I wanted to join the company and dance on stage with them. A few months later, I joined the group and found that the director, producer and many of the performers were LDS. At that point in my life, I was atheist attending the Unitarian Universalist Church so it was very difficult for me to comprehend my dad's death from a car accident just 6 weeks after joining the company. I became depressed, despondent and spent a year barely living each week. But I was in the perfect place to get my questions answered and to receive the consolation that I desperately needed. I needed to know that I would see my dad again, that the end of this life is not the end of existence and how I could be with my dad again. I started asking members of the performing company about the LDS views on the afterlife and the purpose of this life. A family gave me a copy of M. Russel Ballard's book "Our Search for Happiness." After reading it, I knew that I had to learn more. I started attending church and meeting with the missionaries. I prayed to know that God was real and received the sweet assurance from the Spirit that God knows and loves me. I was taught that I could be with my dad forever through the ordinances of the priesthood in the temple. I found that the gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses all truth and beauty found in this world and that my search for truth and meaning brought me to the true Church of God on the earth. In October of 2001, I was baptized. At the time of my baptism I felt that the following scriptures described how I felt:

Rev. 21:4-5
"And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things anew. And he said unto me, write: for these words are true and faithful."

I felt new that I had started a new life and that the gospel has turned the pain of losing my dad into joy. My tears had been wiped away and I knew that I would never have to think that death was the end of existence again.

Because of my depression, I felt like Alma has he described his conversion story in Mosiah 27:28-29:

"Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God.

29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more."

Since my baptism six years ago, I have experienced great joy as I attended Institute, studied the scriptures and learned the deeper doctrine of the gospel and had my unending questions answered. In 2002, when attending my high school graduation, I happened to sit next to a friend of mine who hadn't seen me since before I joined the church. After talking for awhile, she asked me "What happened to you? When we were hanging out you were always so sad but now you are so happy." I couldn't not explain to her the change that had taken place in my life so I told her about the gospel and my conversion. She was interested in knowing more so I invited her to Institute for a fireside. She started attending Church and I was privileged to work with the missionaries in teaching her the doctrines of the church. She was baptized 364 days after me.

I also had the joy of being guided to attend BYU in Provo where 3 weeks after I transferred there as a junior, I met the man who became my husband. I remember the overwhelming joy I experienced as I waited in the dressing room of the Salt Lake Temple to be sealed to him and I fell to my knees overcome with joy. We are now expecting our first baby who is due to be born in a few short months. The happiness I've known being married to Peter surpasses any previous happiness I've known.

One of the activities of the church that has brought the greatest amount of joy in my life is doing the temple work for my family members who have passed away. A few months after my baptism and on my first trip to the temple to do baptisms for the dead, I witness the proxy baptism for my dad and felt the assurance of the gospel that he had accepted those ordinances. I felt the same joyous assurance when I completed the work for my grandmother who passed away a few months after my dad. I didn't know how she would receive those ordinances but I knew because of the feelings of the Spirit that I experienced that she accepted those ordinances. Since those experiences, I've felt strongly compelled to work on my family history and I thoroughly enjoy the spirit of Elijah in my life as I excitedly find new information.

I have experienced some disappointments and losses since joining the church but I don't experience the same degree of fatalistic despair that I knew before being changed by the gospel. My mother has yet to join the church and it has been a struggle for me to wait patiently for her to find that the time is right. One of the most bittersweet experiences I've ever encountered was when she told in a Christmas letter a few years ago to "Keep trying." In 2006, four years after my baptism, my mom and I watched my grandmother slowly pass away after a debilitating stroke. But this time, I wasn't plunged into the same confusion and darkness as when I lost my dad. I had the sweet assurance of the gospel to comfort me so I knew that she was free from the bondage that her body had been subjected to.

In 2007, our first child was born. We have had great joy watching him develop and learn new things. But the happy event of his birth was marred by a traumatic and abusive birth environment. While adjusting to motherhood, I struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by inappropriate treatment by hospital staff. But the love I felt for my child from God and my husband was enough to give me strength. I have been chronicling my struggle with that on my
birth advocacy blog .

I share these struggles to show that although I feel I was give a new life with my baptism, I still suffer the pains and sorrows of life. I still have faced death. But my life as a member of the LDS church and my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, gives me hope that someday, after this life, I will know the peace and joy John described in Revelations.