Friday, August 29, 2008

An inspired visitor at school

The Monday before school started, I went into school to start working on putting my classroom together. I was not required to be there that day, but chose to go and get a jump-start on things.

When I got there, I realized I was not the only one with the same idea. I went into the classroom of one of my coworkers to welcome him back from summer. We talked about some of the exciting events of his summer break, and then the customary question came to me. “How was your summer?” This wasn’t the first time I had been asked this question. To some people I have been able to respond “Good, yours?” but mostly I have just been responding, “Interesting. It has been an interesting summer.” Depending on the person, they kind of give me a look like they would love to hear more, but then don’t pursue it when I say nothing more. This reaction was not the case here. Upon my response, this fellow teacher more or less insisted that I tell him more. I felt prompted to do so, and our conversation has been mentioned a few times in my other posts. He responded wonderfully and gave me some great things to think about how I was prepared by the Lord for this time in my life.

Then, later the same day, a student from last year came in to visit me. She had a gift bag in her hand to give to me. I told her she was lucky I was there as I was not required to be there. She indicated that she had come to the school on her lunch break from work specifically to see me, not knowing if I would be there or not. She was out of town the last week of school, but shortly after that decided to put a gift bag together for me, with several sundry items and two beautiful books.

One of the books was shrink-wrapped, so she said she would not have normally purchased something like that for someone without thumbing through it first. I glanced through the books, noticed how incredibly appropriate they were for me, and then with tears starting to well up in my eyes, I thanked her and told her that she was inspired to get me the books, inspired to come see me that day in particular. I then shared with her about my summer, about my husband, about my feelings.

She then shared with me some of her story, about her favorite uncle that is gay (and has AIDS), her mother’s (and uncle’s) abusive childhood (abused by her grandmother), her mother’s decision to take the 2 children and leave her father many years ago, also due to abuse, and many other interesting twists that I did not know about her. She is an incredible girl with a strong testimony. Her brother was also one of my students and is serving a mission. I can’t imagine what her family has gone through, and yet she has turned out to be so faithful and so strong. I was grateful for her story. We learned so much from each other during that blessed visit.

I came home from the school right after that. My classroom was not as done as I wanted it to be, but my heart was full of gratitude and happiness, of an awareness of my Heavenly Father’s love and for his choice to use this young girl as one of his servants to bless my life, and I in turn to bless hers.

Sunday Observations, Part 2 - Quotes

When I started writing the other post, I actually had some notes from Sunday that I was referring to. I related part of my Sunday experience from my notes, and then I became distracted by other past memories, thoughts and feelings.

Here is a continuation of another thing I wanted to mention.

In Sunday School. as we were learning from lesson #32, "They Did Obey...Every Word of Command with Exactness." (referring again to the 2000 stripling warriors.) At one point a quote was read that made me nervous. I didn't know where a discussion from the quote might lead.
President Harold B. Lee taught:
“The power of Satan will increase; we see it in evidence on every hand. …

“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5.) There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’ (D& 21:6.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126).

Fortunately the discussion didn't really go anywhere, other than some brief joking about Mitt Romney. But it did make me think, and my thinking really didn't go anywhere. What do I make of this quote when I compare it to other quotes that I have recently enjoyed.
“The greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.” - Brigham Young

If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.” - Joseph Fielding Smith. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 3:203–204 ISBN 0884940411)

As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself.

- Dallin H. Oaks, CES Fireside May 1, 2005

I told my sister about Scott this week. As part of our conversation, she mentioned that when she was a college student in the 80's, she and my mom took an institute class that focused on how as members of the church, we have a responsibility to pray and learn for ourselves that what our leaders tell us is true. She said the text for the class was Eternal Man by Truman Madsen.

Anyway, is it just me, or does it seem that church members mostly follow the first quote, thinking that anything the Prophet or leaders do or say has to be true and perfect simply because of where it comes from? Are they doing the right thing? Or is it good and actually needful that we each gain a confirmation of their words for ourselves?

My testimony is strong, I believe that much of what the leaders of the church tell us is inspired and true. But I am confused at what different and conflicting messages some of their "inspired" words seem to send to the church populace. Any thoughts?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunday Observations

During Sunday School yesterday we were discussing the Army of Helaman. The class began to discuss how it seems that the testimonies of the youth are getting stronger and stronger as the years go by, and maybe it is because they need to be for these perilous times. My mind wandered to how grateful I have always been for the testimony that I developed as a youth. When I was 17-18, I seriously had an incredible testimony of Christ and other aspects of the gospel. I was very diligent at reading my scriptures and praying. An adult leader commented to me after a youth conference testimony meeting of how strong my testimony seemed to be for someone my age. I always wondered why I was so blessed with believing and accepting truth and feeling it in my heart. Although I was raised in the church and knew that my parents had testimonies and were faithful in attending, I never heard them bear their testimonies nor saw them participate in personal scripture study or prayer, hold FHE, etc. I wondered why I personally was blessed with such spiritual strength.

Since that time, I have not always been so diligent at the personal prayer and study that I enjoyed as a youth, and so I have been grateful that my testimony has been strong enough to endure things that have tested it. Now especially, I need it as never before. I am relying on it. I see now how the Lord has prepared my life prior to this time so that my testimony could survive through this new struggle with the church and its views on homosexuality, gay marriage, etc.

When I was telling another teacher at school about my summer (he happens to be in the bishopric in his ward) he was impressed that my struggles with things in the church over the last couple of years were to help prepare me for this time. Let me back up and give a brief history: I was Primary President for about a year, and I did not get along with the Bishop during that time. I also struggled to get along with one of my counselors. All in all, it was a horrible experience. Sometimes when people are released from callings they get up in testimony meeting and say how grateful they were for the experience and even though it was hard, they learned a lot from it that made it worthwhile. Not me. I learned to question the leadership of my ward. I learned to question my own inspiration regarding the counselor I had selected. I was confused. Church became a place of anxiety for me and I dreaded it. I think it was the only year I have taught school that I have NOT looked forward to the weekend. Since then, I have continually asked myself why I had to go through that year of hell.

Last year at school I was very emotional and on edge. I did not handle anything very well and I cried a lot. One time last year when I was unloading my stress on this same teacher, he said that he and another teacher in the department had decided that my being primary president had broken me. Here it was a year later, and I was still an emotional basket-case. For a while last year I was the ward organist. Four months after I started playing the organ, I was informed by both the bishop and a counselor that I was playing too loud. I felt ganged up on. I wondered why I had been playing for four months and never been told this before. I frequently asked Scott's opinion on volume, and he said he thought it was fine. (It is hard to tell from the organ how it sounds to the congregation.)

Then, a week later, we had a sacrament meeting where people were assigned to share a few words about their favorite hymn and then we sang it. I was given a weeks notice. (The counselor had no other ideas for speakers and decided this was a good idea without considering how it affected the people involved, like my practice time.) The music director selected those to share the hymns, and at my request, she put me last, and my favorite hymn was to be the closing song. I had prepared my explanation of the hymn. I practiced for hours to prepare for the meeting. I played well, but was anxious and excited the whole time to share my hymn. When it was my turn, I started to get up from the organ, and the bishop got up and motioned me back. I thought he was going to close the meeting because we were nearing ten after the hour, but then he gave "remarks" for quite a while, and I sat there on the organ bench getting more and more frustrated. Finally, he announced the closing song and prayer. Instead of playing the intro to the hymn, I got up and shared a modified version of my prepared words through my hurt tears prior to playing the closing song.

The following week I sent a letter to a counselor in the bishopric (the one not involved above) asking to be released from all of my callings (organist, ward music chair and R.S. chorister) due to stress and anxiety. I wanted to go inactive. Instead, I chose to quit my stress and stay active. (I actually called him later and decided to stay as chorister since I didn't see any way the bishop could be involved in stressing me out with that one.)

So, that was January. I have spent the last 6 months getting comfortable with church again, comfortable with the fact that I had actually "quit" church callings. I know some people would never consider that, so I felt a bit guilty. Just when I was beginning to feel again like I actually wanted to go to church instead of just going through the motions, BANG, the gay thing hits.

So, my co-worker's opinion was that maybe it was all to prepare me to realize that the leaders of the church, local or general, are still human. They are not infallible. It is our choice individually to be offended and go inactive, or to cling to our testimonies and know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, even if some of the policies and procedures don't seem quite right to us.

Fortunately, my mother brought me up with this same philosophy. I watched her say "no" to callings. I heard her say many times that if everyone who was offended by someone at church stopped coming, there would be no one there. I am so grateful for her. Sometimes I long to tell her just how grateful I am and explain why, and then I realize that I am not quite ready to tell her the whole story. I don't want her to worry about me right now. There will be a time, and hopefully I will know when that time is. In the meantime, I am silently grateful for her.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Why do I recommend such a painful book?

Please forgive my ramblings as I answer the following question:

Why do I recommend that others read the book No More Goodbyes by Carol Lynn Pearson?

I guess it because of the understanding that it gave me. I think back to my views on the gay thing two months ago. I would have been nodding my head in agreement with other sisters in Relief Society that made strong comments about gay marriage and gay couples adopting children.  I would be thinking that Satan is working hard to destroy the family by leading people to believe that they are gay. I would see girls holding hands in the hall and think how sad it is that kids at school are choosing to be lesbians because of the attention they get from it.

Let me share a few of my experiences with students that help me realize how far I’ve come:

A few years ago I had two male students that I was very close to. They were best friends, and I had the privilege of being their teacher all 3 years they were in high school. They seemed to enjoy telling me about their lives. We talked about great music groups (like They Might Be Giants), they told me about the girls they liked and were asking out. They gave me a Mickey Mouse trophy that says "World's Best Teacher." One of them later invited me to the temple when he took out his endowments for his mission, and I recently attended his wedding reception. The other one (who is not member of the church despite the example of his best friend) left to work at Disney World. I communicated with him via MSN messenger frequently. Then one day his alias on messenger was 2q2bstr8. I asked him what was up with his new alias, and he said he came out in October. I typed "Oh" and the conversation pretty much ended. It weirded me out. I wondered what kind of friends he had in Florida that had this influence on him. I didn't initiate chats with him anymore. He came to visit me again in my classroom about a year after that, and I was kind, but I was weird about it somehow.

I had a teacher's aide 2 years ago that was gay. He was a great TA, and I learned to be comfortable as he told me how mad he was when his car was stolen because his "clubbing pants" were in the car and stolen as well. I actually kind of enjoyed getting to know him, and even though I don’t specifically remember our conversations, I know I learned more about the gay world than I had before to that point. I guess I have become more accustomed to such students over the years, but still, I realize now that I did not really understand them.

And then the book NMG opened my eyes. I understood that it was not a choice, that it was not limited to weird teenagers seeking attention. I fear that I have had many gay LDS students that I don't even know about that were sitting in their closets, not knowing what to do or where to fit.

As I share my feelings with other teachers, I have received a much more positive response than I ever imagined. One is in his bishopric and told me of a young man in his ward that comes and shares his feelings and research with him. He also told me of his sadness that this young man was denied the chance to serve a mission because of his orientation.

Two of the teachers that I eat lunch with know Bruce Bastian (owner of Word Perfect, I think, and former member of the LDS church, and also gay, of course) from being in the same "family" with him at BYU years ago. They have been very understanding and a joy to talk to, and I think they have learned much from me regarding my dedication to my marriage and the open communication that Scott and I have.

Other teachers are loving and supportive of me, yet also willing to share their belief that God could never reveal that marriage is anything but between a man and a woman because of how it is tied to church doctrine, and because of that, their political participation in CA is justified. (That comment came from my closest friend at school last week as I shared with her my recent struggles.) I swayed the conversation another direction, but I am going to slowly share more with her. I already suggested that she read NMG, and she was open to it. Maybe next summer when we have more time, maybe sooner.

One teacher looked shocked. She didn’t understand how it was even possible for us to be married with children. I felt like she was worried about me and my marriage. She knows how emotionally weak I can be. We didn’t have much time to talk, but I quickly tried to comfort her in regards to our marriage relationship by saying that we were enjoying the men's Olympic swimming events together, LOL. I think that just shocked her even more as she thought about it and realized what I was saying.

The responses have been different, but no one yet has been negative or begun treating me differently. Many of them have assured me that they don't think any less of Scott. Last year my closest friend always told me what a wonderful husband I have any time I mentioned how involved he is in helping with the children since my job is more restrictive than his is. She hasn't changed that opinion. Maybe none of them want to risk not getting hand-dipped chocolates from us for Christmas. LOL

Anyway, sorry I am rambling through my feelings of the week, but I feel like a missionary spreading good news to my co-workers about wonderful people. I am so impressed with the MoHo bloggers. They are some of the most incredible people I have ever learned from and I am so grateful for their insights and the circle of wagons that I feel I am a part of.

I feel like a different person. I know I would have continued to love Scott without reading NMG. But I also know that I would have continued to worry about our marriage. The book helped me to let that worry come to a head and then wash away. I don't know what the future holds for us, but I don't worry about it as much anymore. I think I might even worry less about it than I did in other rough periods of our marriage. The worrying didn't go away immediately. It came from many conversations with Scott. It came from trying to help him explain to his dad why he has chosen to make no firm commitments to what the future will bring. It took a group of MoHos and their crazy and interesting and gut-wrenching blogs to help me realize that Scott and I are not alone in this. It took time and tears, but it was worth it, in hindsight.

Maybe I am different. Maybe other people would dwell on the negative "what if’s" in the book and wish they never read it. I guess it might not be the answer for everyone. But for me, I am so grateful for the education, for the enlightenment, for the chance to feel the pain of those I used to roll my eyes at. For the chance to share the love and the joy and the acceptance. For the chance to feel like I have a higher calling at school than to just teach math.

I don't think that NMG would be so effective in being a fruit of knowledge if it wasn't so blatantly and honestly painful. It is up to the individual to determine if the potential harm of reading the book is worth the possible benefits.

At some point after reading the book, I told Scott that I needed a break from everything. I needed a day when I could just stop thinking about everything, stop feeling the pain, stop obsessing about it. A miracle day where I could literally forget his news to me, forget the stories I had read and let life be back to normal.

Most of the time I don't feel that way anymore. I look forward to reading the Moho blogs and the conversations I will have with Scott each day. Right now I am struggling with putting my thoughts aside so I can focus on school. It got easier toward the end of last week. I got a lot done and I think that next week will be even easier to set thoughts aside as I am encompassed about by about 200 teenagers, names and faces to learn, a relationship of trust to build, and a journey to embark on for the next 9 months. I am excited to see if my newfound confidence boils over into my teaching, if my newfound love of a group of people I didn't understand helps me to love all of god's children, brown skinned, white skinned, shy, obnoxious, frustrating---whatever makes them who they are, with a new energy that I haven't had for a few years. To see if that love will make a difference in their lives and in their futures. So many possibilities. I am getting excited for it! Last June I dreaded that we had recently locked ourselves into a 15-year mortgage and other debt that requires me to continue working. Now I am grateful for an opportunity to serve and to grow.

As for anyone considering whether or not to read NMG, or to have their spouses or others read it, I think the answer needs to come from within the heart and from Heavenly Father, who is so mindful of each of us. Here I am crying about it, but I am often overcome with the love that I feel Heavenly Father has for ALL of His children. As for myself and the affect that NMG had on me, I am reminded of a story I’ve heard about God transforming us into mansions through painful remodeling. I’m sure the remodeling is far from done, but I can see the progress.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What’s in a name?

We are taught in the church that names are important. We take upon ourselves the name of Christ. Names are important in the temple. It is not something to be taken lightly…

My quest for an alias has actually be quite interesting. I thought of using one that I used when I worked at an LDS girl’s camp, but it didn’t seem to click with me this time. It is the name of a fairytale princess. Dichotomy has always been my Prince Charming. We even had a figure of this prince and princess on our wedding cake, and a family member cross-stitched them with our marriage date and framed it for us to cherish forever. Dicho asked me to prom while we were on tour in Disneyland with our high school choir. He gave me a beautiful poster of this prince and princess and a note that referred to him as my prince charming. Even though I still adore him, somehow this analogy no longer feels like the best representation of our MOM. (Wait, doesn't Prince Charming usually wear tights? Maybe it does work after all! LOL)

Dicho and I started exploring names that are related to dichotomy or math (since I teach math, I kind of eat, sleep and breath it at times). Anyway, he found something called the Dichotomy Paradox, which is an infinite geometric series whose sum is 1. For those of you who just went “huh?”, basically you start with 1, add ½ then add ¼, then add 1/8, and you keep adding half of the value of the previous term forever which means it really never gets to 1, but it gets really close. When he found this paradox online, I was excited and shared a memory from a college math class. My professor tried to explain this series by saying “suppose you have a girl frog on one lily pad and a boy frog on another lily pad across the pond. The boy frog really wants to get to the girl frog, but suppose for some reason he can only hop half the remaining distance each time. Will he ever reach the girl frog? Essentially, no. But he will get close enough.” Dichotomy then thought that was very interesting. He and I are in this MOM marriage, which may never reach the same levels of emotional connection that a heterosexual marriage has the potential to reach, and yet is it close enough? I think it is.

Next in my quest for a name came a beautiful recommendation from a Moho friend. I quote this from his blog:
You really do need a name. How about "Speranza"? That's Italian for Hope. It's feminine and yet strong! You are a voice and source of "speranza" for all of us! I would love to see you blog, to learn from you as you open up to your school, to your church, to your family, and as you and Dicho work together for a stronger, more hopeful future. That is the spirit of "speranza"!
I was touched. I liked the sound of it. I thought about it for a few days, but I kept forgetting it and had to look up the post again to remember it. I figure it might not be a good thing to forget my own name.

Next I thought of the Greek letter “Sigma.” Greek letters are used extensively in math, mainly for naming angles in trigonometry. Sigma is also the letter used to indicate a summation, like the one in the dichotomy paradox listed above. Another association I have with Sigma is in the Church’s Lambda Delta Sigma program. I belonged to the LDS sorority throughout college and Sigma of course stands for the S in Saint. I’m not sure if I’m always a saint, but I am not ashamed to be called LDS, so I guess that works. Still, I’m not feeling the connection with it that I would like to feel.

Briefly considered was “Serenity” which of course means “a disposition free from stress or emotion” or “the absence of mental stress or anxiety”. While I do feel that the gay thing has actually brought peace into my life of anxiety, I don’t think that anyone who knows me would think of me as being free from it.

The main reason that I have decided to start my own blog is that I have found in responding to other’s blogs and emails that by writing out my thoughts, I am able to make amazing discoveries about myself and my progression through life. To me, that is “serendipity” which means “the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.” Since that is what I think it might do for me, I feel it fits. I guess it is a little long, but so is dichotomy. Maybe we could shorten it to "Dip" and then we can be "Dicho and Dip". LOL

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings from the last month and a half since Dicho came out to me that I would love to go back through and share on this blog, but it is going to take some time. School starts on Monday, so that will be my life for a while.

Thanks to so many of you for encouraging me to start this blog and including me, a straight wife, in your circle. I look forward to continuing conversations with all of you, and maybe I am setting an example that will encourage other straight spouses to communicate more and join us as well.