Sunday, December 27, 2015

When Others Sin Against You

My gentle reader could not have forgotten that quite recently a rumor arose among people in my church that caused me great difficulty and heartache. Since that period and upon much reflection, I have undertaken to find the identities of those who began and perpetuated this slander. The leader who confronted me rendered me such basic hints as to narrow my search and one person approached me, admitted their part, and asked my pardon. He received it forthwith. 

Shall we discuss the others? There is one, a lady, who I know laid suspicion upon me and I know why. In truth, it was not necessarily against me personally but at least in part because she violently disliked the man of whom I found myself accused, and, finding me firmly set against treating this or any man with contempt, gave vent to her desire to injure him by laying this fabricated sin at my charge. Another person involved thoroughly disliked the fact that I recklessly strive to keep God's commands, and not able to reach that bar themselves, sought to stain my honor. The leader also, concerned with these reports, searched my writing, bypassing entirely my many comments pertaining to God and righteousness and focused only on what they could take out of context and condemn. But I will say no more of this person for I hope their heart at least was swallowed up in true concern. 

It is possible my slanderers read these very words. I hope they do. Realize, my friends, that with a few taps of my fingers I could pen their names and hold them up to public derision. I could openly unveil their names to my readers, who range from Egypt to Australia, from Denmark to the States. They told lies against me; I would only reveal the glorious, almighty truth. I am in every way justified. Thirty seconds and a few finger taps. 

But I won't. I am not the low, vile, unChristlike person these souls have illustrated me to be. I do not need to sink to that level. I am a disciple of Christ and I will render them what they did not see fit to render me - respect. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Grace Versus Works

"There are two kinds of religion in this world," declared a random pastor I happened to meet in the park one day. "Those who believe a person has to do anything at all in order to gain salvation, and those who don't.  Grace is everything and we don't need to do anything to gain salvation!"
 
I nodded politely, biting my tongue and keeping the cheeky comments in my head to myself.  I wasn't about to tell this obviously learned disciple of Christ that he might not be aware that he had described what only pertained to the Christian faith and that there were continents full of religions that had nothing to do with Jesus, so his statement proved from the very beginning incomplete.  I also declined mentioning that a person may take any passage from the Bible and contend that such stood as the pivotal hallmark of a true religion (method of baptism, priesthood authority, et cetera).  He had done me good service and I hoped I proved too kind a person to intellectually mop the floor with him.  But I digress.
 
The argument regarding faith versus work has raged almost since the beginning of Christianity, with human beings snubbing their neighbors, creating laws against heretics and even burning each other at the stake over such debates.  But when I hear friends begin the old argument about whether salvation comes through works or faith I quietly smile, listen politely and take in only one piece of information about the whole situation.
 
They don't get it.
 
So allow me to explain. 
 
I love the Lord with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.  I love Him with every portion and part of my being, nothing withheld.  There is nothing I would not give Him, nothing I would argue is too high a price to illustrate my love for Him, and nothing He would ask that I would not attempt to do.  Salvation, my friends, isn't the point.  I know that must inspire shocked gasps, but truly, salvation of self proves only a speck in the totality of our relationship with our Maker.  Allow me to spend all my days in the service of my Father and my God, allow me to lay my spirit down in complete surrender to my Lord, allow me to die the painful death of a martyr in His service and after all this, let my Father condemn my soul to hell.  I would still love Him as far as my capacity would let me feel anything.  Salvation is not why I do what I do.  I do not follow Him in order to escape hell.  I do it because I love Him and want to do as He asks to the best of my ability.  I do not do this for reward in this life or the next.  I do not necessarily seek to avoid the anguish of hellfire; I seek to keep with me the Spirit of God, for when one has the Spirit, one can walk through the agony of hell with his head held high and his eyes focused on the next step ahead.  A disciple of God fears not pain.  Were I able, I would that I might have the roles reversed, that I might take the bitterness of Calvary upon my own shoulders that I might protect the Lord Jesus Christ, and save Him from such horrors.  I cannot, but I wish I could because I love Him so much. 
 
No.  It's not about gaining salvation.  It's not about stretching the extra inch to barely reach heaven or about performing the bare minimum in avoiding hell.  It's about cultivating a living, vibrant, breathing relationship with God.  It is about learning who He is and thus better understand who we are.  And when we do this, our faith will solidify.  Our acts will be in strict accordance to His will, not to gain salvation for ourselves but because His work becomes ours, His will becomes ours, and His wisdom guides our paths.  And what He chooses to do with us after we find ourselves in the embrace of death will prove just another step in our eternal relationship with Him and will be for our good. 
 
 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Successful Missionary Tactics

Tis the season for many things.  Lights, cookies, and inviting people to church.  I think we generally have the blinking bulbs and chocolate chips down to an art, but the last idea tends to frighten a great many people.  Sweaty palms, breaking voice, fearing rejection, chickening out at the last minute - most of us understand these stressful symptoms of attempting to bring others into the fold.  But we can leave those fears behind us.  The truth is that the invitation begins a long time before we ever "pop the question."  

Accept People For Who They Are

Anyone who knows me knows I am LDS and have never had a drink of alcohol in my life.  Often people fear that I will look down on them for drinking or living riotously.  Here is the transcript of a conversation between myself and the one of the most riotous cousins I have in my enormous arsenal of family.

Him: "I have to get a shot before I start my new job."

Me:  "What kind of shot?"

Him: "Shot of vodka."
Me: *Chuckling* "No, seriously.  What kind of shot?"

Him: *Emphatically* "A shot of vodka!"

Me: *Laughing in earnest now*. "Seriously..."

Him: *Explains about an inoculation shot necessary for his job.*

I know some well meaning church goers who would scowl at the mention of a devil's drink in their presence.  Actually, I find I cannot go to visit my relatives on the east coast for three days without finding myself in a bar at some point.  They know better than to offer me alcohol, and I have never rebuked them for getting sloshed in my presence.  If anything, I laugh at their antics.  It's a balance of mutual respect.  And it teaches them that they are firstly human beings to me and not just minions to be brainwashed into attending my church.  We have basically come to the understanding that yes, going to church is the higher road, I am right to take it, and they are invited to join me.  But no pressure.  We're still friends.

Hello, my Name is Michelle and I am a Religious Nutcase

It's basically written on my sleeve.  I often find people approaching me and asking me questions about my faith when I have absolutely no recollection of telling them I was Mormon.  I am not ashamed of my religion, and speak of it freely as I would anything else that I love.  A person probably cannot have a full conversation with me without realizing that my passion for religion is very strong.  I recklessly bear my testimony in the most bizarre situations whenever I feel so impressed.  I recall doing so with a woman I barely knew.  She looked at me strangely and rather stiffened.  I noted her coldness and discomfort and decided to help her feel better.  Later, in another conversation with her and her ex mother-in-law, I brought up the subject of religion again, quite calmly calling myself a complete religious nut, but that is okay because at least I'm a harmless nut.  She laughed and since then has slowly learned that I will not join her in speaking ill of those people she dislikes, simply because I choose not to speak ill of anyone.  Nothing personal, just what I feel a Christian ought to do.  I think she's learned to live with it.  Most people learn to brush things like that off and remind themselves, "That's just Michelle.  She's just like that with everyone." 

Handle it With Grace 

My life has generally resembled a mix between a violent war and the most bizarre soap opera of all time.  Beyond having extreme post traumatic stress, however, I generally handle insanity with calm.  Much of this is due to experience and practice. 
A friend of mine had requested I fill her in on the latest in my life and after having laden her with more gossip than human beings should ever have to handle, she remarked, "You are handling this very well...clearly that is because of your faith."  I agreed. 

Sometimes the manner in which we react to trial and temptation will be the highest indication of our faith in God and also in His almighty power to make troubles lighter on our shoulders.  When others see such things, it often acts as a powerful missionary tool that we did not necessarily intend to employ.  As the saying goes, "Preach every day and every hour continually, and when necessary, use words."

Come One, Come All!

I think we often fear that missionary work and inviting people to church has to involve a face to face, one on one confrontation.  Not so.  The Book of Mormon cites a man who exclaims, in essence "Oh that I had a the voice of an angel and could preach repentance to all the world!"  What would he have given to have had a Facebook account!? A status is a completely valid invitation.  I recently had a  woman invite me to her Christmas Eve gathering at her church via events on Facebook.  That is a valid invitation, and I appreciate the thought.  
Swallow the Rejection

Yes, we may be rejected.  In fact, we probably will be at some point. Get used to it.  I have been so many times.  Do we hide in a corner and cry?  No.  Hopefully we invited someone about whom we truly care and who we honestly want as a friend.  What do we do?  Continue being a friend.  I was fairly recently rejected in an invitation by a lady I respect very much.  She proved cold and uncomfortable around me for a while.  My move?  I warmed up more, not as a missionary but just as a friend.  I joked with her about getting drunk.  I showed her that her rejection of my invite didn't matter and that my interest in her as a person was stronger than merely wanting to get her into church.  Eventually she relaxed and our relationship is stronger than ever.  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fearless

As my loyal readers will readily comprehend I have spent much time of late in reevaluating my own actions, thoughts, and perspectives in relation to a rumor recently spread about me and also several attacks questioning my moral decency due to the fact that I tend to wear femininity recklessly on my sleeve.  

But isn't that the point?  The fact is that I love being a woman and yes, I have self respect enough to wear sleeves.  My friends, wake up and open your eyes!  We live in a world that teaches women to wear next to nothing in order to gain masculine acceptance.  We hear that pornography is a victimless crime and that such things are natural and normal - even necessary to a man's happiness.  We learn from media that there is no difference between man and woman.  Women often expect themselves to compete with men, to attempt to behave like men and we see gender confusion continually on the rise.  Excellent parents and moral conservatives find themselves engaged in a continual battle against easy sex amongst teenagers and even adults who ought to have outgrown such immaturity.  Unnecessary and flippant divorce is becoming the norm.  We see celebrities spending exorbitant sums to change their gender and view their rewards among the social powers that be without anyone to raise a voice against it.  

I will raise my voice against it.  

I have endured what has felt like much persecution due to my decisions to express in manner and in word my gratitude to God for being a vibrant, passionate, feeling, faithful woman. I have proven the subject of malicious gossip in part because I have attempted to illustrate what a woman of God is and can become.  I have prayed much to find yet another confirmation that what I have been about is indeed the will of God, and I have received my answer.  God willing, I will not be silenced.  I cannot live with my conscience in beholding these atrocities and doing nothing.  Has the Lord given me the drive and ability to write and forced me to view sexual abuse, the damage of pornography, the anguish of sexual addiction, and the debilitating consequences of moral recklessness so that I stand idly by?  Nearly every day I plead with the full force of my heart that God may keep my body pure and safe, untouched by the vile fingers of any man save the one He has reserved to be my eternal companion and soul mate.  This world needs desperately moral women who are not afraid to be innocent and are passionate about being women.  These well meaning people who rebuked me on the grounds of morality perhaps did not comprehend that a woman who knows her boundaries and can promote femininity is not an enemy of God to be feared but a sacred weapon of light that must needs remain unsheathed.


Childish Secrets

I never attend Sunday School anymore.  It's true.  The management has decided that either I do not need it in order to keep my spiritual life in order or else I have opened my mouth too many times for the other students to allow me in the door.  Whatever the case, the powers that be in my congregation requested that I skip my regular programming in order to take care of the two year olds so that their parents may for nearly two hours every week enjoy their quiet, sacred, Sabbath bliss undisturbed.  My cohorts in nursery and I run after little ones constantly plotting to escape their imprisonment, have children screaming in our ears, kicking at our faces with hysterical little feet while we unsuccessfully attempt to calm them, sometimes find our bodily temples the receptacles of mucus, saliva and urine, and endure the continual aroma of messy diapers.   I know what you must be thinking, gentle reader, and you are absolutely correct.

We are the luckiest people on earth!

Unfortunately, we lost two of our comrades today.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps the bishop overheard something about Brother Nymeyer flinging plastic chicken legs across the room, much to the little ones' delight.  We enjoyed a camaraderie unparalleled in any other calling I have filled - perhaps because it was four of us against sometimes sixteen miniature soldiers of destruction.  We had to depend on each other, and life will not be the same without the sweet, calm sanity Sister Nymeyer offered our group.  It certainly will not be the same without her husband's equally powerful measure of hilarious and somewhat riotous insanity in our midst.  We will try to get by.
How can intelligent, free thinking adults actually manage to enjoy such an environment and such usage?  What is the secret to surviving this madness we call child care?  Is it all a matter of bracing oneself?  Well, partly, yes.  Choose to accept what may come and love it?  That is certainly part of the equation. But the real secret is to learn to love these babies.  They are a joy to me.  What might have been a chore every Sunday has become a blessing and a wonderful part of my week.  Here are some of our favorite moments in nursery - music time, gabbing with international celebrities on an old fashioned plastic telephones, and cutting off marshmallow distribution during snack time.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Music Time with Michelle!

video
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The blue instrument in my hand is an indispensable part of caring for young children.  It is a wand for blowing bubbles.  Merry Christmas from the Tortolita Ward Nursery!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Not One to Judge

Perusing recently the autobiography of one Robert Clary, a Holocaust survivor who later starred on the television sitcom Hogan's Heroes, which mocks the Gestapo and Nazi Germany, I happened upon his statement that during his incarceration, he prayed nightly to God. By the end of his time in camp he had come to the conclusion that there was no God, for surely God could not have any justification for allowing such crimes as he experienced and witnessed. He respects the rights of others to believe, but he simply cannot.

I know that many people would love to act as missionaries to this noble man and bring him to the knowledge and goodness of God. To those stalwarts I have two beautiful little words.

Shut up.

I would be the first to try to bring joy to his misery filled life by teaching him about God, but I first have to respect who he is and take seriously what he has endured. Truthfully, a Holocaust victim who can get up in the morning and make it through the day without continually screaming hysterically has already accomplished more than most do in their entire lives. God has these very special people in hand and our job is not to judge, but to love unconditionally. Let God convince him otherwise, gently, lovingly, and with a perfect understanding of his feelings.

I think we sometimes forget this principle in our everyday lives with everyday people. Sometimes we become so quick to judge someone that we consider flawed without taking into account all they have endured, much of which might prove horrific. Sometimes we pound our fists, arguing the absolute fact that we are right. Maybe we understand a true principle but maybe it is not right to attempt to force them to believe. Maybe we need to show them understanding and then they will begin to learn what we know on their own. Maybe we need to remember that human beings will not care how much we know until long after they know how much we care. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Would You Have Stayed?

My hands tremble a bit in creating this post, as it treats upon the very difficult week that preceded it.  Quite recently I have found myself in a situation that has ravaged my confidence, strength, and emotions.  Already many know I have been weighed down by much trial and grief, and in the midst of those overwhelming pains, a person from my congregation with greater, shall we call it "rank?" than I, a lowly nursery worker enjoy, found it advisable to confront me with an eye of terrible suspicion.  Apparently others had informed this leader that I was meeting a man secretly in the park in order to pursue an immoral affair.  I found my words taken out of context, twisted, and placed before me accusingly.  I understood that some people I had trusted, though their identities were not made known to me, were agreeing that I must be doing quite wrongly and my worthiness to maintain a temple recommend was challenged as it has never been in my life.

Not knowing their identities, but recognizing that this rumor must prove widespread indeed, I did not know which of my friends I could trust, and which people in my congregation had heard and believed such ideas.  Which of them had confronted this leader with the apparent desire to destroy my standing in the Church?  Not surprisingly, I felt I had not one good reason to set foot in that building again.  

Stifling tears I took my daughter to the church Christmas party and as soon as possible excused myself to an empty classroom, where sobbing came more readily.  Where could I go?  Who could I trust?  And for one tear streaked moment of sheer desperation the idea occurred to me that several good, generous people I know attend a different church.  They clearly have a wonderful time and accept each other with open arms.  Could I possibly rest my weary heart in their pews instead?  But I shook it off and opened The Book of Mormon, which I carried in my purse.  

Hands shaky and randomly scrambling, I happened upon a passage that describes a company of very young soldiers who have the choice to run to certain safety or to turn back to help their countrymen in what might very well be a trap.  Their leader leaves the question to them.  Shall we move on or return?  This was their answer. "Behold, our God is with us, and He will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of [our countrymen]." These young men return, and though many of them are wounded in the battle that follows, they win the day and miraculously not one of them falls to his death.  As our prophet President Monson said, "I read the words, but God turned the pages."  I decided to stay.

Walking numbly back into the crowd, I found myself almost immediately greeted with an amazing amount of sincere kindness, interest, affection and respect.  People I barely knew approached me and demonstrated that they considered it an honor to call me a friend.  Even the person who had rebuked me sought me out, admitted that the rumor was not so badly or maliciously spread as they had unwittingly led me to believe and all but craved my pardon.  

What had kept me there?  I had nothing to cling to socially, my reputation unjustly tainted, my standing and moral position unjustly questioned.  I had endured altogether over two hours of this suspicious questioning on top of the other burdens I carried.  What had kept me from walking out that door?  

Because I know that this gospel is true.  I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true and it is the church that most pleases the Lord.  He is at the head of this church.  I know perfectly that the Book of Mormon is true and is the word of God.  I know perfectly that President Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God and I know that those appointed as apostles are called of God.  I know that the temple blessings are real and in these sacred edifices families can be sealed together forever and not just until death do us part.  This is not just a nice idea.  It is real.  It is vibrant.  And it rings so truly to my soul that I could never have been complete without it.  My friends, look into your hearts.  Do you know with perfect surety that your denomination is the true one that most pleases God?  If your social status, your moral standing and the warmth of your religious family were taken from you, would you still return because you knew it so completely to be true?  Human mistakes do not change the reality of this gospel.  Human weakness does not compromise the fact that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of God who translated the Book of Mormon by divine direction.  It is true; it is a fact.  If my gentle reader cannot say with perfect conviction that their doctrine is completely true, perhaps it is time to work on his testimony, for we do not know when it will be put to the test.  And of course, if my gentle reader finds that she cannot reconcile herself to her own denomination so completely, hey, the blissful doors of Mormonism are always open.

Monday, December 7, 2015

There's One in Every Family...

Welcome to the holidays!  We have successfully traversed Thanksgiving and find ourselves headed toward late December at an alarmingly rapid pace.  We will soon find ourselves surrounded by wrapping paper, holiday food, caroling, and family.  We hope the last item on that list is a pleasant thought, but if not, we can still have a wonderful season together.  

Almost every family enjoys that one member who inspires stifled groans, sighs, and even possibly the occasional eye roll due to his or her attitude about family gatherings.  Perhaps it is that aunt who cannot say a kind word to anyone, that cousin whose focus in life seems to be comparing herself to others in a manner degrading to anyone save herself, or maybe it is that brother, father or uncle who thinks that imitating Ebeneezer Scrooge before his transformation is an ideal way to greet extended relatives at the door.  I myself have an older sibling who doesn't happen to be a woman.  Historically we have fought like brother and sister.  No one quite knows why.  

I also have two relatives, one via blood and one marriage who waited for literally years to accept my Facebook friend request, considering me too far beneath them to condescend that far.  I never treated them badly regardless of their blatant rudeness to the extent that the rest of the family began spitefully whispering about how bad they were and what a generous saint I proved.  But we do not have to treat relatives badly in order to have peace or a wonderful holiday.  One great lesson from the yoga mat is that when we find a tightness in our bodies or in our lives, we breathe into that spot and shortly the tension will dissipate.  I employed this technique with these two ladies and though they both continually shot me venomous looks, I had peace.  I would sit quietly alone, concentrate on these ladies, mentally accept the existence of frustration that stood between us and then breathe deeply, focusing on releasing tension in that quarter.  It worked.  I felt calmer, more peaceful about them, more ready to give and recognized better that I deserved to have peace, even if they did not accept my offerings of good will.  I gave generously to them as they stiffly replied or perhaps didn't even acknowledge me at all.  This continued for years.  I invited them to parties and into my circle.  They continually rejected me.  I find it didn't hurt my feelings, because I was doing this partly so that I would not harbor negativity in my own soul, and being kind to people, despite their reaction, cultivates peace of conscience.  

People may have some wrinkle in their souls that would lead them to reject us.  No judgement.  That is their own problem. It does not ever have to be ours.  Breathe into that relationship.  Pray for Christlike generosity.  Extend the hand of kindness that your own spirit may be without stain or blemish.  Do not expect anything in return, for it is possible you may not receive anything.  No matter.  God will bless you and someday, as transpired with both these ladies, they may actually grace your life enough to deign to click the "Accept" option on Facebook. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Honoring Catholicism

* I penned this some years ago but include it now, as this month invites us to come together as Christians and minimize those barriers that often stand in the way of our unity.


Finding myself in varied conversation with my ever trendy lady friend one day, I mentioned that a common acquaintance of ours proved devoutly Catholic.  A sudden aghast expression crossed her lovely face as she passionately inquired “He’s Catholic?  I thought Catholicism was out of vogue!”  as though social acceptance determined the validity of spiritual faith.

Nevertheless, how right she was!  One of the first points in Dr. Greg Jackson’s groundbreaking book The Word and it’s Witness: The Spiritualization of American Realism argues that while other religions exist in America, the most academically influential prove the mainstream Protestant denominations.  Even the more universally encompassing The Social Life of Scriptures edited by James Bielo chooses as its subjects predominately Protestant movements, and we find a considerable decline in the focus on the Roman Catholic Church.  How did the erstwhile universal powerhouse dwindle to its present state and why should we as a Judeo Christian community take notice of this comparative decrescendo?  

Within the English speaking society, much of the alteration from Catholicism to Protestantism arose from King Henry VIII of England.  His expulsion of Papal Rule stemmed not from a classically moral argument but in order to follow his own lust and personal ambition to beget a son by the unyielding Anne Boleyn.  After outlawing Papal authority and by executing his long sought Anne he threw open the windows and doors of religious chaos through the opposing reigns of his daughters, the Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth.  In essence, the blood he spilled continued to mount into a thrashing crimson tempest of bloodshed that fully saturated the whole of English streets and eventually created in England a primarily Protestant nation.

It was in this state that the British Empire exploded throughout the world and thus the tendency toward Protestantism grew and expanded to such an extent that “the sun never set” on this manner of thinking.  The Puritan emigration to the New World took this concept to greater heights with the goal of worshipping God outside not only Catholicism but Anglicanism as well.  This connection between personal freedom and Protestantism cemented itself in America which created for Catholicism a stronger social stigma of stagnation.  

But though the original organization has undoubtedly fallen in numbers and political power it would serve us within the Judeo Christian framework to recall the foundation we inherited through the more than one thousand years of its continual European reign.  In our fast paced society, focused so entirely on instant answers and immediate gratification it behooves the contemplative mind and humble follower of God to remember that this single organization kept alive the New Testament against overwhelming odds, preserving them through a millennium without computers, printers and the like, and carrying the idea of Jesus Christ through mass murders of early Christians in the Roman coliseums and general persecution.  It stepped up to the plate armed with faith and reckless devotion to God and spread the message of Christianity through whispers in catacombs and by secretive symbolism on peril of human life.  It was the early Christians’ unabashed love of their God that steeped their courage to continue relatively alone as the apostles dropped one by one from the earth in martyrdom and the world plunged headlong into the Dark Ages.  

There are many, I recognize, who will cite the various corruptions of the Church from the Crusades to the Inquisitions, Indulgences and several other accounts and hold these as sufficient reason to despise and degrade Catholicism in general, denouncing it as a wholly corrupt entity but let me answer this argument in a brief sentence.  What organization made of imperfect human beings with complete control over an ignorant population will not have individuals within it that will seek to take advantage of the absolute power they hold?  We have learned through sad experience that this is not confined to the organization in question or even to greater Christendom.  It is a fact of human nature that some people prove ultimately culpable but we cannot assume that the actions of some ruling parties reflect the essential doctrines of the scriptures by which the greater number of followers honestly seek to abide.

Indeed, we find similar moments within Protestant history as well.  Let us for a moment consider the notorious Salem witch trials or the Anti Catholic Gordon Riots in London.  Protestantism, as far as it has had the opportunity to be so, has proven equally violent as Catholicism in its own proportion.  

So what is the purpose and importance of a study of this hue?  What does it behoove persons outside Catholicism to comprehend and weigh these matters?  Certainly the interdenominational bigotry among many Protestants may temper itself remarkably in acceptance of the fact that all Protestantism arises from the Western Catholic Church.  It renders us a common motherhood and ancestry within our religious sphere.  Indeed, without Catholicism there would be no Protestantism.  Let us recognize therefore that we all worship a mutual God but confine ourselves, generally speaking, to our own conclusions and methods of worship.  It also behooves us as individuals to recognize that we have no solid intellectual ground for demonizing an organization in its entirety by the actions of a few members.  All human organizations, like all human souls, hold imperfect constituents interspersed with divine virtues, and demonizing either an organization or a human for relative frailties does the seeker of greater virtue no spiritual favors.

If our true and honest aim is to emulate the Savior we profess to worship, would it not prove advantageous to sheath our weapons of proud contention and rather seek to lift where we stand?  Perhaps we might recall that people are as diverse as denominations and we might well learn from our neighbors’ various strengths.  Some argue that we each hold the responsibilities of missionary work and therefore cannot afford to harbor such pacifistic respect.  Is not quiet gentleness, human kindness, and love unfeigned more resonating than a thousand hellfire sermons?  As I have often experienced, sincere investigators will come to us if we softly abide by the New Testament precepts of charity and service.

I have sometimes received expressions of confusion and reprimands bordering accusations of blasphemy for my continual defense of religions outside my own; yet those times I freely discuss my personal testimony of God, though my voice be hushed, one can virtually hear a pin drop for the effect I find it generally has in its hearers.  That is the power of personal conviction and once we have it, it frees us to openly defend and even promote interests of another religion with a greater respect for other human beings as they are and not as we would make them.  In short, my convictions are so steadfast and unshakable that I feel no need to compete against or degrade other faiths and can openly and easily harbor greater respect for convictions other than my own.  I find that those who generally engage the loudest in bigotry and ignorance are those whose own testimony rests on a sandy foundation.  The truth needs no defense.  It will ultimately triumph and will do so under the hand of an Almighty God and all the human hysterics under heaven will not, and cannot change it. What remains is whether or not we in our own lives follow the counsel and command of the God we profess to adore and whether we will harbor in our own bosoms a clear conscience and quiet soul.
 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Lonely At Christmastime

My heart and prayers reach outward toward all but especially those who find themselves alone in this jolliest and also often most emotionally gnawing time of year. Heartache seems inevitable, and we must face the anguish, for time, circumstance, or distance separates us from those we love. We sit silently weeping on chilly nights, hoping for a reprieve we know may never come. And the twenty fifth looms on the horizon, threatening our lives with a loneliness unbearable. How can we prove cheerful on these cold, bitter days?

Strange it may seem, but I and others also tend to feel most lonely when surrounded by warmth and family.  Sometimes the loneliest times are those in which we find ourselves in loud and laughing company.  We gravitate toward the window and gaze through the rain bespattered glass. Tears streak down our faces and we can't quite explain why.

But solace comes when we listen more carefully to those tears and realize that what we miss is the peace from honestly remembering the Savior. We spend millions of dollars on Christmas cards and gifts, desperately attempting to remember everyone important on our lists. I think we forget the main person in our lives, the One who drives away sadness and fills to overflowing our chronically empty lives and hearts with light. So those times we think we have no one who cares, no one to comfort us or raise our dampened spirits, let us bow our heads and reconnect with the One who will never leave us and who truly is the reason we celebrate each year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sorry, I'm Taken

Wow!  I simply must inform my gentle readers of the amazing relationship that beckons me in!  He's perfect in every way!  Strong, resourceful, loving beyond measure, and treats me like a goddess!  He only wants what is best for me and spoils me rotten!  He can and would create miracles for me and sees more potential in me than I can ever see in myself!  Money is no object and nothing is too good for adored, beloved little Michelle!  He doesn't even mind that I have another self indulging relationship going on at the same time!  Mind blowing!

I refer, of course, to the Savior Jesus Christ. Sometimes we tend to think of Him as a distant, obscure Being in another land and era, or perhaps from a place far distant in the great expanse of heaven.  We forget that He is our Friend, our Savior, and also refers to Himself repeatedly as the Bridegroom.  The chaotic events of recent years have led me to ponder continually on what the title of Bridegroom means to us personally.  A bridegroom is one who protects, provides for, and thoroughly loves his counterpart, respecting her as his equal but recognizing that his part of the relationship will be different and complimentary to hers.

Many of my dear lady friends have of late found themselves once again single, and truly, attempting to navigate this poor, sorry world proves often soul stretching and agonizing.  One requires a guide, a helper, a patriarch, and a protector.  How great a blessing is it to know that we always have One!  No matter our circumstances, we have a prophet, a helper, a male role model for our children and a priesthood holder under our roof and nothing save our own choices can make Him leave.  

I believe I mentioned another relationship in which I find myself.  It is one that every human being ought to have, man or woman, and it should come before any romantic commitment takes shape.  It is the relationship we have with ourselves.  Sometimes we tend to brush that commitment away, thinking it unnecessary or unimportant.  Nay, for without a strong relationship with ourselves and God, any other relationship we have will likely crumble to dust and fail.  Relationships with God and self are necessary prerequisites to a healthy and strong romantic relationship.  And one of the most beautiful and joyous aspects of this arrangement is that when we dance with God, blissfully being grateful for ourselves, God can gently let the right romantic counterpart cut in. 


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Prudish, Prudish, Prudish!"

I have never openly related this story or recorded it in my various journals, though I do include it in my autobiography, as it proves a very powerful time in my life that tried my soul beyond all reckoning, defining my character and providing lovely fodder for much reflection and self exploration. 

College years proved delightful to me for many reasons and from my infancy I had dreamed of pursuing a PhD, or several of them if opportunity presented itself.  My studies brought me to a class like none other, which treated upon my favorite subjects and at the head of which stood the most exquisitely brilliant professor I have ever had the privilege to know.  Though nearly as young as most of his pupils and in some cases much younger indeed, this doctor of English commanded the subject matter, the classroom, and it seemed each moment of our homework ridden lives with the ease of a true master of his art.  I knew at once that I would gain a great deal of knowledge from his lectures but I did not expect to learn even greater lessons with regard to him off of the academic stage.  

Women around me constantly buzzed with excitement at the sight of this almost GQ model instructor.  Finding myself married and morally clean, I kept my nose discretely in my books, basking in the language and reveling in the added knowledge I gleaned.  It hadn't occurred to me that this was precisely the kind of behavior that attracted the said professor's amorous attention.  Angry upon discovering that I wore a diamond ring of status, he kept a close watch and studied me as deftly as he often studied his books.  He found through observation several marital problems with which I strove and upon so doing, engaged in a full blown attack of romantic coaxing that haunted my steps continually.  Marital issues proving quite painful and the powerful wooing of this man overwhelming I found myself in the middle of an earth shattering but generally unspoken war.  I recall times when I felt so torn that I became something of a being walking through life in a dream of exhausted stress.  I recall praying continually for strength to do the right thing.  I recall the exertion of turning him down so drained me that at one point I left his office, found my way outside and to a bench, and promptly blacked out.  He became incensed when I continually rejected his attentions to the point that he sacrificed his own lecture time to point out quite eloquently before a captive audience of two hundred that a woman who rejects such a man on nothing save the grounds of moral decency proved not only wrong but absolutely "prudish, prudish, prudish!"  We rounded out our relations some years later, concluding, as best as we could, as friends and common pilgrims, struggling through life with a united appreciation of beauty and religion.  

We often look for justifications and excuses to betray our own consciences and trample upon the commandments of God.  We may tell ourselves that it proves too hard, it isn't worth the fight, and that human attraction stands paramount in importance, towering over trifling ideas like morality.  I cannot tell what might have happened had I given in to his beckoning but I can testify conclusively that I have never once regretted living a clean life before God.  I know for a fact that my life is better and more richly blessed than it would have been had I allowed him his way.  I know by experience that when a situation is harder than we can bear, our God will create miracles to help us withstand temptation.  When our hearts are aright and we are giving our all, He may not make it easy, but He will make it possible.