Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spiritually Free

A few weeks ago, my daughter (age 15) was asked to do two different things, both of which she agreed to. Then I discovered that both were the same night, and she would have to make a decision and tell one of them that she would not be able to help after all.

The first was to present something at Young Women in Excellence, which is an additional meeting once a year, usually in November, for young women in the LDS church, and usually their parents as well, to celebrate the girls' accomplishments in the Young Women Personal Progress program, which involves setting goals and accomplishing certain things in each of 8 value areas. For this year's program, our young women presidency chose to focus on family. Here is the description from an email I received a month or two ago:

Our "Family Forever" Young Women In Excellence is scheduled... and all YW and their Moms and Grandmas are invited.

We would like to ask if any YW or Mom who has an heirloom of an ancestor would be willing to share what it is and why it is so important to you and your family, maybe tell the story behind it. This will be our "Grandma's Secret Stories" portion of the evening.

Also if you have completed any Personal Progress experiences or projects, we will have tables up for display and would like some kind of display on anything from each Young Women. Look through your Personal Progress book to see if you can find something you have done to display for that night. It will be a Victorian style event and we hope to have you all there!

The second event she was asked to help with was a "Straight Spouse Network" meeting. A friend of mine who is recently separated from her gay husband is also a therapist and works specifically with youth. She was asked to talk to the group about how to help children within the chaos of our lives in mixed-orientation marriages and frequently also the subsequent separation and divorce. She herself has two young children, and so even though she has training as a therapist, she felt like she didn't have much personal experience to draw on. So she thought of my daughter, to whom Scott came out when she was twelve. The friend talked to me about it first, and then asked my daughter if she would come and talk at the meeting, to give her perspective on how parents could best handle things with their children.

It was the next day, about 10 days before both events, that I was playing the piano prelude in Relief Society when I suddenly realized the conflict. I left the piano and found my daughter in her young women's meeting right before it started. I told her of the conflict, and make sure to tell her that I would support her with whichever one she chose, but that she would need to let the other person know as soon as possible that she would not be able to do what she said she would.

After Relief Society, she came in with the baby and other boys as usual, finding me so that we could go home together. But this time also with her was the Young Women's president, telling me how she let her know that she had a conflict with young women in excellence--wondering if there was any way we could adjust our schedule so that she could somehow be there anyway. I explained that the two things were the same time, and nothing could be changed, and that I had allowed my daughter to make the choice. The president kept going on about how she had specifically chosen my daughter to do this part. I told her I was sorry, that it was her decision, and that I would have supported her either way, but that honestly I was having a hard time with church and was planning not to come any more, and that I would be more comfortable not attending the young women's meeting anyway.

Of course I felt guilty about that decision as the night drew nearer, and I kept double-checking with my daughter to make sure she was doing what SHE wanted to do. She assured me that she was, but still the pain and guilt stung every time I thought about it, especially when I received another email from the president, asking parents to send family photos to her for a slide show she was creating for the event.

The night arrived. My oldest son ended up attending his scout/youth meeting that night. So with no babysitter available, I hauled the other 4 children to the straight spouse meeting. It was a great time to let other people know that they are not alone with this challenge. A couple of people kind of monopolized the meeting with their own struggles right now, and we were all glad that we could be there to input and help them through. But as a result, my daughter did not get the chance to say very much, and so I was silently wondering if she regretted not going to the other event instead.

But on the way home, she started the conversation, "That was good. I'm glad I chose to come here instead of Young Women's in Excellence tonight." Really? I shared with her my thoughts that maybe she was bored and would have regretted her decision. We had a wonderful conversation. She talked about how she was glad to miss the church meeting because she feels so much pressure and guilt there to earn her "ribbons" for the value experiences, which eventually lead to earning the Young Womanhood recognition and accompanying medallion. I admitted to her that I was glad I was not there because the focus in the Young Women's program is preparing for the temple and temple marriage, and so I knew it would sting to be reminded that I do not qualify for a recommend, and that my own temple marriage is far from what I hoped and planned for when I was her age. Then somehow we got on the topic of testimony, and how hard it is to go to church because I do not like the topics of "temple marriage" and "follow the prophet", but that it is also hard not to go because I do have a testimony of the gospel, of God and Jesus Christ. She shared with me a recent experience she had when she had an assignment from seminary to pray to know that God knows her personally, and she forgot to do it at home, so then prayed while she was walking to school, and had it confirmed within her heart that God does know her personally. What a comfort that must be to her, with as crazy as our lives are and as conflicting the messages and feelings. To know, truly know, that she is a daughter of God that loves her and knows her personally. It was a sweet moment for me, and I thanked her for sharing, and asked her to write about it in her journal. We soon arrived home, and she commented that had we been driving home from the church instead of from the meeting we attended in Salt Lake, that we would not have had this wonderful time to talk and share our feelings and experiences and testimonies. And I have thought again at how lucky I am that God spared her life as a fragile infant and that she can be with me now, such a strength and help to me in so many ways.

Today my children decided to attend their Sunday school/priesthood/Young Womens and primary meetings. We have a wonderful new friend living with us as of yesterday, and he took them over to the meetings and sat and read a book while he waited to take them home again. Meanwhile, I took the baby and went to a meeting elsewhere that a friend had invited me to a couple of weeks ago. It is called the "Center for Spiritual Living" and is held at a community center in South Salt Lake every Sunday. I chose the meeting that also included a nursery that I could put my child in and enjoy my own meeting child-free. (

The main topic of today's sermon was children. He talked about the scripture to be as a little child, and about what that meant to him. He spoke of how we typically think that we are the ones that are supposed to teach children, when in fact it is often children teaching us. He shared the experience of seeing a child that had fallen, who subsequently took a deep breath before putting every amount of effort he had into wailing and expressing his pain. Why don't we do that as adults, putting everything we have into expressing how we really feel? He talked about gratitude, and how the scriptures say we should be grateful in all things (that reminded me of the book "The hiding place", and the author's sister being grateful for the fleas in their barracks in the concentration camp.) He spoke of recognizing that sometimes hard things in our lives are blessings in disguise. He spoke of how all of us influence the lives of children, and are influenced by them, whether we have our own children or not.

He spoke about how some of us might have been brought up with ideas that are damaging to us. He spoke about how nice it would be if all children could grow up knowing their divinity from day one, in classes like they provide to youth here, instead of needing healing later in life from harmful messages that are learned elsewhere. This is something Scott mentions when we discuss my current inner conflict with the church and feeling the pressure to continue raising the children in the church. Look at the struggle I am having. If our children are to continue to accept their dad and our other gay friends and their marriages the way they do now, then eventually they are going to (if not already) have the same types of conflicts and damage that I have from my upbringing in the church. But I learned lots of good things there too, that Scott says we can teach them/are teaching them at home. But that is a lot of pressure to instill in them correct values without the teachings of the church in their classes on Sunday to reinforce them.

On the way there, and during the service I prayed to figure out what God's plan is for me right now. I was tense driving to the meeting, and I didn't know if that was a sign that I should not go, or if it was just because I tend to get nervous when I'm around people I don't know and in situations that I am not familiar with. I tend to think it was just the latter. During the meeting, I was not uncomfortable really, and I didn't regret going today at all, but it didn't feel like where I need to be on a regular basis, if that makes sense. I had some random thoughts during the meeting, that are listed below. Feel free to help me analyze them. :)

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true, and no matter where I go, none of my spiritual experiences will every exceed experiences that I have had within the LDS church. That doesn't mean that I think the church is the place for me right now, because I know it is not. I have healing to do, and I need to stay away. But that does not change the fact that I know the gospel is true.
  • How great it is that so many people attended this meeting, people that have chosen to be spiritually free from constricting religions, but that still want to have spirituallity and divinity in their lives. At one point the reverend said that there are many paths back to God, and I felt a confirmation that he is right. That God is happy with all that seek Him, no matter where or how they worship. So how does that work with the scripture "Straight is the path and narrow is the way that leads to eternal life"?
  • For some reason my mind started pondering on the idea that in the next life, unless we reach the highest level of exhaltaion in the celestial kingdom, that we will only be with people of the same gender. Where did the church get this idea? (I'm sure I've learned it before and just forgotten.) And if it is true, isn't that just a reward for the gays, rather than a lower kingdom? And where do transgender people fit in? Is there another section just for them? So many unanswered questions, if anyone can help me I would appreciate it! I fear though that since I am not going to make it to the highest degree that I am going to be stuck for eternity with a bunch of moody women instead of with my bestest gay friends (no offense girls!)
I have some other blog posts in the works leading up to this one, but this is all I can do for now. :)