Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cleavage Is Not for Consumer Consumption

by Anonymous

I did not see a girl displaying her “cleavage” until I was 19 years old.  It was a New Year’s Eve dance in our small community, and a young woman dressed in an outfit with a low neckline had joined us with her date.  I remembered the tremor that went through the crowd as we realized that one among us was dressed inappropriately, and we could sense the potential loss of virtue the immodesty implied.  It was a sad evening.  I could sense we had tasted of evil and that it would be easy to partake of it again.

On the other hand, my mother was modest, as were my grandmothers and mother-in-law.  Never did I see what I should not see.  They set a firm yet gentle standard of gracious modesty that I wanted to emulate.   They never expressed a desire to reveal to the world that which was most precious in them  as though it was a consumer commodity.

But I had to learn for myself, so I wore a sheer-top evening gown to a high school formal dance, and although I was “covered” with fabric, the sheerness of the upper part of my dress and sleeves was my own first entrance into the forbidden.  My mother warned me of the implications of my purchase, and it is only in my maturing years that I have realized how that decision propelled me towards evil.  I acted without restraint; I should have shown more personal alliance to what I had been taught all my life.  The dress should have stayed at the store, and I should have continued to shop until I found or could modify a formal to my standards.

As it turned out, the night I wore this dress was a disaster from the beginning.  I felt agitated and uncomfortable despite the many envious glances and comments I received.  In a small way, I had become a young woman experiencing a newly acquired reputation of “looser” morals.  When I received my first-ever kiss that night, it served as an ugly entrance into attention I did not want, but surely deserved, for having been less than true to my own virtue.

After that sad and terrible night, with my lesson hard-learned, I sought to engage in dressing modestly at all times and in all places.  It has served to keep me safe and keep me aligned with my inner self.

It is now a generation later, and women displaying cleavage are as prevalent around me as if it had always been in fashion.  Stores are not hesitant to offer the latest way to show as much as possible without “showing it all.”  My friends and neighbors show more and more as they emulate the trends of their peers.  And so the modesty of my youthful life is not the modesty of my older years.

I see girls and young women dressing now as their temple-attending mothers have chosen to dress.  I see cleavage in Relief Society, Primary, and when I go visiting teaching.  Gone are the days of visual safety within the confines of my closest circle of friends.  I fear the seeming innocence of a low neckline will cause pain, both now and in future generations.

“If Mom does it, why not me?  If Grandma does it, why not me?”  Surely, they will follow as you lead. At some point, I believe, you will mourn because someone you love will lose her virtue after following your example.

Modesty was encouraged in Christian circles long ago, and inappropriate dress was a challenge sufficient to merit space in the New Testament.  In his counsel to the saints, Timothy encouraged “women [to] adorn themselves in modest apparel.”[1]

From the beginning of the Restoration, modesty has also been encouraged in women.  When organizing the Relief Society in 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked the sisters to “assist by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community.”  [2]

And in a turning of words to our possible condemnation, Doctrine and Covenants 25:13 indicates we are to “cleave unto the covenants,” but it clearly does not say we are to expose our cleavage.

Today, our general church leaders continue to teach proper principles.  Sister Elaine S. Dalton has recently said, “Virtue encompasses modesty—in thought, language, dress, and demeanor. And modesty is the foundation stone of chastity…. Being modest lets others know that we ‘cherish virtue.’”[3]

She continued by laying the contradictory choices before us. “It is a matter of the heart and being holy. It is not about being fashionable. It is about being faithful. It is not about being cool. It is about being chaste and keeping covenants. It is not about being popular, but about being pure. Modesty has everything to do with keeping our footing securely on the path of chastity and virtue.”[4]

I believe that our daughters need to be modest, but I also believe that they cannot truly begin to be committed to modesty until we cover up ourselves.  Thus, for change to happen, it must begin in our own closets.  I implore you to consider the cost of immodesty  to yourself, your children, and your grandchildren.  Purge your life of everything that might in the least expose your children or your neighbors your bosom.  It is our duty and our responsibility to live an exemplary life of modesty in dress and decorum.

And yes, there are many others ways to be immodest, including sheer fabrics to shorter skirts to too-tight clothing, and on and on.  But right now, let’s work on cleavage.  It’s not for consumer consumption.  It is ours to keep private and privileged as we seek to emulate the Lord’s command to “walk in the path of virtue before me.”[5]

[1] 1 Timothy 2:9, King James Bible.
[2] Joseph Smith, in Relief Society Minute Book, Nauvoo, Illinois, March 17, 1842, church History Library, 7.  Quoted in Daughters in My Kingdom, Utah:  Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2011, p. 12.
[3] Elaine S. Dalton, Stay On the Path, LDS General Conference, April 2007.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Doctrine and Covenants 25:2.

Friday, December 2, 2011

When You’re in Love with Someone Who’s Married

by Anonymous

Love. We talk about it in Sacrament meeting, in Relief Society, and even on occasion in Priesthood. Sometimes we glamorize it or fantasize it, but never (well, hardly ever) do we discuss what to do when falling in love with someone who’s married. Mostly, we ignore the idea that it might happen because … well … it’s not supposed to happen.

Let’s think about it, though. Is it so strange to consider the possibility that we might be attracted to someone, regardless of marital status? We interact with other people’s spouses on a regular basis, especially at work and at church. It’s probably safe to say that almost everyone has felt attracted to another person that’s already in a committed relationship. When that happens, it’s not an issue of infidelity as much as one where personalities click. Still, it’s the wise individual who—rather than pretend it couldn’t happen—knows what to do when it starts.

1. Ponder why you’re feeling attracted to that married someone.
The following are a few questions to consider:
  • Am I feeling lonely and/or don’t have a loving relationship?
  • If I have a relationship, is it healthy? Or are my spouse and I not getting along?
  • Do my spouse and I spend enough time together?

The last question is one of vital importance, because it’s easy as members of the church to become heavily involved in callings and service to others. In fact, we become so involved that we forget to provide service, in the form of quality time, to the one we love and to whom we’ve made an eternal commitment.

2. Nip it in the bud.
As a college student, Susan (name has been changed) was friends with a man she thought was single. She fell in love and then realized he was married. She felt shocked and at first didn’t do anything to change her feelings. She said in retrospect, “You can indulge yourself too much. You know something needs to change, but your heart thinks otherwise.” Eventually, though, she realized this wasn’t the course she wanted her life to take.

Knowing what to do is simple in one respect but excruciatingly hard in another. As soon as you notice you’re attracted, stop the situation. In addition, don’t tell friends that you’re attracted, either. Why? Because as soon as you do, they’ll feel the need to be supportive, which could translate into finding ways to help your budding feelings grow.

Who, then, do you turn to for help? If you feel comfortable confiding in your bishop, that might be a good source. Just be sure to tell him you want the information kept confidential and that you don’t want it discussed in ward council. Any bishop worth his salt will keep the confidence and immediately find callings that will keep you busy and far away from the person that is consuming all your thoughts. If you feel uncomfortable confiding in your bishop, try the stake president, or even an LDS Family Services counselor. It’s hard to bear such a burden, but recognize that with the exception of a few rare circumstances, friends are not the ones to ask for help.

In addition, no matter how strong the attraction is, or whether you even think your feelings would be returned, never tell your feelings to the one you’re attracted to. Susan stated, “Don’t make it an issue for them, too. Don’t mention it.”

Yes, it is hard to keep love inside, but once you tell the other person about it, you’ve opened Pandora’s box and will never be able to take that statement back. If you’re good friends with the person you’re in love with, it will ruin the friendship. The support and camaraderie you had will be lost, and you’ll feel even more alone.

3. Look at the eternal perspective.
Think it through logically. Suppose the person you’re in love with leaves his/her spouse for you. Most likely, the church will take a dim view of a divorce under those circumstances, and there will probably not be a cancellation of the prior sealing. Nor will permission be given for that person to be sealed to you. Priesthood blessings and ordinations may be denied, as well. The divorce will split his/her family, emotionally damaging children, the other spouse, and friends. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to ruin his/her reputation and engage in a marriage under these circumstances … one that will be for this life only?” Or, “Do I love this person enough to want him/her to remain an individual of honor, to maintain his/her good standing in the church and the community, and to keep the covenants he/she made?”

4. See less of him/her.
Moving to another state might not be the answer, because you will lose your support system. However, if you work together, transfer to another department or even another company. If you hold church callings that overlap, ask to be released and put into a different position. You might even consider attending another ward for a time. If you used to see each other as you drove down the street, take a different route. Susan suggested, “Label [the relationship] as something that has boundaries. Put it in a different class. There’s no need to be cold, but [you need to] only talk to each other on that level.” In other words, move it back a step … or as far as required in order to control your feelings.

It will be hard for a time—heartbreaking, in fact—but if staying totally away from the person is the only way to manage it, then do it.

When I interviewed Susan, we discussed why members of the church aren’t exempt from experiencing such heart-rending situations. Susan gave an opinion that offered excellent insight. “We’re allowed these experiences—ones that are going to happen naturally—to see how far we allow it to go, as a test of our character and of the commitments we’ve made. When we come back …God is aware. It sums up [our] devotion to marriage.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

When Is It Just Looking, and When Is It Lusting?

by Anonymous

Every day, after I've spent hours of caring for my children, helping with homework, reading, bathing, cooking, and feeling totally exhausted, my husband pitches in to help me put the kids to bed and clean up the kitchen. As soon as the kitchen is clean, he jumps on the computer and starts reading about sports and looking at soft porn.

The realization happened slowly for me. I noticed that he was looking at these pictures and sometimes would have me come and look and he’d say, “Do you want to look like that?” or “Do you think her boobs are real?”

I laughed it off. What else could I do? These were pictures that you can see on billboards on the freeway, in magazines, on TV—it wasn't pornography, was it?
But I didn't like the way it made me feel, to know that my husband was looking at these women, admiring them and comparing them to me. To know that in some cases, he was probably thinking about them, lusting after them when his mind was quiet.

I installed filters on my computer, but they didn't block those images because a picture of an actress at the Oscars isn't pornography, is it? Even if you could see her entire naked body through her sheer dress.
I started to wonder how many women felt the same way I did. Had all of them come to accept that their husband would be looking at pictures of other women scantily clad in string bikinis because their husband said it wasn't the same as pornography? Had they voiced their objection, only to hear that it didn't matter if he looked at something for two minutes—it wasn't like those guys who were addicted and spending hours every day looking at pornography.

Then my husband started encouraging me to dress immodestly, telling me it didn't matter if my cleavage showed, insisting that I wear a bikini to the hotel pool so that he could “show me off.” It was weak of me to comply, but as women I think we are always worried that if we don't keep our men satisfied they will go somewhere else. Isn't that what we're taught? I wonder what would happen if 10% of men had that same fear about their wives—that if they didn't treat them right 100% of the time they would never get sex.
I constantly worry about fulfilling my husband's sexual needs in hopes that I will be enough. Sadly, I've learned that I will never be enough.

Pornography leads to so many other problems. My husband told me he wasn’t thinking of those images after he saw them. Did I believe him?

I didn't. I knew that the mind is a powerful stage and it was easy for things to get out of control. When I voiced my objections again to my husband, he told me it was the same as me swearing. I do make a lot of mistakes, but do my mistakes make it okay for someone else to commit adultery in their mind? Do my mistakes make it okay for anyone to sin, whatever it may be?

No, we all have our free agency. If you bring up a problem that someone has, it is never acceptable for them to blame you for the mistakes/sins you make in an attempt to justify their actions.

As I questioned whether I was blowing things out of proportion as my husband indicated, a scripture came to mind.

From 3 Nephi 12: 27-29
27 Behold, it is written by them of old time, that thou shalt not commit aadultery;
28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman, to alust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart.
29 Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer anone of these things to enter into your bheart;

My heart hurts as I imagine what kinds of things play out on the stage of my husband's mind. And what hurts most is that he thinks it is okay just because the standards of the world are so low.

Every day, I struggle to maintain my patience and show love to my children despite how incredibly difficult it can be. I know that I need the Spirit in my life to help me to get through each day. I know that if I make wrong decisions that the Spirit cannot dwell within me.

I asked myself, can the Spirit be in our home when the priesthood holder of the home is looking at the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model?

I think that we have a responsibility as women, as daughters of God, to make a stand against this behavior. We have to say, “Enough is enough!”

Every moment of every day we are faced with thousands of choices. A split-second decision makes the difference between whether we will have the Spirit accompany us throughout the day or not. Every day we have the chance to repent, be better, work harder to become more Christlike.

After many conversations and heartfelt prayer, my husband agreed that what he was doing was not right and he agreed to stop looking at those images and sites that had those images readily available in advertisements, etc.

If you have a problem with pornography in your home, what has helped to eradicate it?

Have you allowed other's justifications to make you complacent toward this vile sin even though you were never comfortable with it?

I urge you to stand tall and set boundaries now so that you may have the Spirit in your home.

Friday, June 24, 2011

His Grace is Sufficient, Part 1

Written by Linda Garner

Orange Jello. The girls were excited. My friend had made it for her mutual class. As she peeled back the foil, their delight turned quickly to dismay. Something was wrong.

“What’s that in the corner?” asked one of the girls. “It looks like dog poop.”

“It is dog poop,” said the teacher, “but don’t worry. It’s just in this one corner. We can cut around it. Who wants a piece?”

“Ooh, gross.” “Yuck.” “Disgusting.” “Are you kidding?” “I’m not touching it.”

It was an effective object lesson on the content of movies. You get the idea. “It was a great movie all except that one part.” We’ve all said it. It’s not quite the same with Jello.

What if instead of a movie, the Jello represented a human life and the dog poop represented sexual abuse? Just as the dog poop changes everything about the Jello, sexual abuse changes the texture and landscape of an individual life. Cutting around the dog poop is not an option. The Jello will never be the same. “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”[i]

Sexual abuse is one of the most damaging experiences imaginable. Whether it happens once or a hundred times, the damage is often deep and lasting. Some children bury the secret and never tell or talk about it. These are the ones I worry most about. A child who doesn’t get help may have a very hard time healing.

In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see. [ii]

What is my Worth?

When speaking about self-worth, I often open my presentation by waving a hundred dollar bill in front of the audience. “Would anyone like to have this?” I ask.

The response is immediate. Everyone would like a crisp $100.00 bill. Why? They understand its value. I crumple the bill and ask “Now, who wants it?”

They all do.

I stomp on the bill, shout at the bill, and I may even tear it, write on it, or smudge dirt on it. “Who wants it now?”

They still want the money. Despite what I have done to it, I haven’t changed its value.
Everyone understands the value of money, but some have a hard time understanding their own value. This is particularly true for those who have been sexually abused. Though we each have scars of some sort, the scars left by sexual abuse are deeply personal, and difficult to overcome.

A person who has been sexually abused is often burdened by feelings of worthlessness. Some feel that they can never be good enough, that they can never be loved or accepted. They feel broken. They are like the hundred dollar bill which has been crumpled, torn, and dirtied, yet their value is real.

It is important for each of us to understand that our worth does not change. It is eternal. We brought it with us. Our worth comes from our Father in heaven, who knows us personally and loves us no matter what. Our worth comes from our Savior Jesus Christ who bought and paid for us through his precious blood. Our worth is related to our potential as divine sons and daughters of heavenly parents, rather than our achievements.

I am a child of God, and He has sent me here.[iii]

Our worth is not dependent on our goodness, our possessions, our intelligence, or our physical appearance. Our worth does not increase with the items we check off on our “to do” list. These things can make us feel good, but they do not increase our value.

There is a subtle but important difference between self-esteem and self-worth. Self-esteem is what we think of ourselves and it can change. Self-worth goes much deeper. It is who we are. It does not change. It is eternal.

Our worth does not diminish when things go wrong. We are not worth less when we make mistakes, when we sin, or when others abuse us. Like the hundred dollar bill our value is tangible and real. When bad things happen to us, we may feel “less than”, but it is an illusion, a counterfeit.
Satan loves us to feel worthless. He loves us to believe that we are scarred beyond repair. He encourages us to feel unlovable, unworthy, not good enough. Guilt and discouragements are his weapons of choice. He works in darkness. He is the author of lies.

In contrast Jesus says, “Come unto me.”[iv]

Jesus is the author of truth. Love and light are His weapons of choice. He loved us enough to die for us. His love is an extension of our Father’s pure and unconditional love for us, His children.
“I testify to you that our Father in Heaven loves His children,” said President Uchtdorf in April conference. “He loves us. He loves you. When necessary the Lord will even carry you over obstacles as you seek his peace with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Often He speaks to us in ways that we can hear only with our heart.”[v]

I know my Father lives and loves me too.
The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true.[vi]

When someone abuses us, we are not to blame. Sexual abuse is never the victim’s fault. Elder Richard G. Scott clarified this. “Your abuse results from another’s unrighteous attack on your freedom. Since all of Father in Heaven’s children enjoy agency, there can be some who choose willfully to violate the commandments and harm you. Such acts temporarily restrict your freedom.”[vii]

Further clarification is found in For the Strength of Youth. “Victims of rape, incest, or other sexual abuse are not guilty of sin. If you have been a victim of any of these crimes, know that you are innocent and that God loves you.”[viii]

Sexual Abuse Happens Somewhere Else

Diligent parents may have a hard time understanding the risk of sexual abuse. They are inclined to think that sexual abuse only happens in seedy neighborhoods, or in dysfunctional families. The unsavory truth is that it happens everywhere, in every religion, in every race, in every neighborhood, in every culture. Sexual abuse is a plague that crosses all boundaries. We would like to think that we are different and that sexual abuse doesn’t happen in our church. How wrong we are.

The numbers are staggering: nearly one in three girls will be sexually abused before the age of eighteen, and more than one in six boys. Over two thirds of all reported victims of sexual abuse are younger than eighteen years old, and more than half of those are younger than twelve. Nearly one third of all children who are victims of sexual abuse will never tell anyone.

I know of no evidence that those numbers are different for Church members. How I wish that Church members would realize that the danger is real and take opportunity to teach their children about the dangers of sexual abuse. How I wish they would give them tools to protect themselves from abusers.

“I wish that my family had been more open,” said one abuse victim. “I wish that they had given me tools. They had never talked to me about sex, so I never told them what was happening to me.

“Some patterns of sexual abuse were repeated in my own family. The experiences were different. However, I still had no tools. Even though I had experienced sexual abuse as a child, I did not know how to protect my own children from similar experiences. I wanted to be more open with them, but I didn’t know how.

“My parents were active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were involved in my life, and tried to do what was right, but they didn’t understand the danger and they didn’t know how to empower me.”

Richard G. Scott advised, “Parents, in appropriate, sensitive ways, teach your children of the potential danger of abuse and how to avoid it. Be aware of warning signs, such as an abrupt change in a child’s behavior, that may signal a problem. Be alert to a child’s unsettled feelings and identify their origin.”

Who can I Trust?

When a child is sexually abused their perception is altered. They see the world through different glasses. They may withdraw from friends and family. Their ideas about healthy relationships between men and women, including dating and marriage are often skewed. Their schoolwork and personal development may suffer.

Though abuse is never the victim’s fault they may feel guilty or ashamed. Having been deprived of their agency and betrayed by someone who should have protected them they often have a difficult time trusting others.

One woman who had experienced sexual abuse as a child said, “After my children were grown, I began to notice that I didn’t trust men. I trusted my husband, and most church leaders, but I was often surprised to notice men being kind and compassionate. I didn’t expect men to be nurturing or to care about others. Though I had moved on from the abuse in many ways, I had leftover feelings of mistrust, particularly for men. Part of me believed that most men were motivated primarily by sex and that they married and had families only to fulfill that desire. ”

An abused child is often a lonely child, particularly if they choose not to tell. Telling is difficult because they don’t know who to trust. The secret is so startling and so deeply personal that they are often afraid to tell. This is compounded if the secrecy has been enforced with bribes or threats. If adults seem uncaring or unapproachable, children will go it alone. Many caring adults stand ready to help, but children are often unsure.

One girl was raped at a neighborhood park at the tender age of eleven. She went to the park with friends but stayed behind when they went to the store. Her attacker was known to her. She was afraid of the future. She didn’t know how to tell her parents, but she went to the church and hung around outside the bishop’s office in the hope that he would invite her in and she could unload the terrible secret. She didn’t initiate contact with him, but hoped that he would somehow see her need.

Her parents were concerned about changes in her behavior, but they never suspected the nature of her problems. They were raising a blended family, and attributed her anti-social and disagreeable behavior to stress from the divorce and subsequent marriage, along with normal teenage angst. For a while, she frequented the foyer outside the bishop’s office, but never connected with him. Giving up, she carried her dark secret alone, until she collapsed from the mental and emotional stress in her late teens.
She was finally able to get the help she needed from a kind bishop, supportive parents, and understanding professionals.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints Condemns Abusive Behavior

The feeling of mistrust can extend to church leaders and even to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Many abuse victims wonder why God did not protect them from abuse. We all want to be rescued from our trials, but that is not the gospel plan. Our Heavenly Father allows agency and seldom intervenes even when his children suffer. What must He feel when He sees the suffering of His children?

One survivor of sexual abuse said, “I have found it extremely difficult to feel self-worth of any kind. The little girl inside me still wonders where God was through six years of abuse. Forty years later, I still pound on the doors of heaven wanting an answer…any answer.”

Those who have been abused may have a difficult time feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost and feeling connected to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sexual abuse may cause deep spiritual wounds that are difficult to resolve. Not surprisingly, a spiritual disconnect can occur when the abusers are active members of the church. The spiritual pain is often magnified when a perpetrator bears the Priesthood of God, however unworthily.

One young woman was abused repeatedly by three different men, first her father, then an uncle, and later her boss. “All three men were members of the church. My uncle was Elder’s Quorum President and my boss was a counselor in the bishopric. I had enough sense to understand that abuse does happen and it’s not the girl’s fault, but when it happened with three (none knew of the other abuse) and they were my priesthood leaders I decided it had to be me. There they stayed in church week after week as if nothing had happened. I knew there was guilt somewhere, but since none of them seemed to carry any, I carried it all.”

This young woman told her mother about the abuse from her father and was not believed. Eventually she told a stake president about the abuse by her uncle, the Elder’s Quorum president. The stake president was supportive and promised a church court. However the Elder’s Quorum president denied the charges and the case was dropped.

Another young woman told her mother that her father was molesting her. Her mother went to the bishop. The bishop and the girl’s father were close friends and the bishop refused to believe that he was capable of abuse. Fortunately the girl’s mother stood up to her husband and took steps to protect her daughter.

Some victims of sexual abuse, both women and men, who were not supported and believed by their bishop, have a difficult time resolving their feelings toward the church. Some remain active, but find their activity painful. Others distance themselves from church activity. For those who remain active, sometimes the motivation is feeling a responsibility to teach the gospel to their children. Though their pain is deep, their commitment is stronger. I admire their faith.

“Do not be discouraged if initially a bishop hesitates when you identify an abuser,” counseled Elder Richard G. Scott. “Remember that predators are skillful at cultivating a public appearance of piety to mask their despicable acts. Pray to be guided in your efforts to receive help. That support will come. Rest assured that the Perfect Judge, Jesus the Christ, with a perfect knowledge of the details, will hold all abusers accountable for every unrighteous act. In time He will fully apply the required demands of justice unless there is complete repentance. Your preoccupation with a need for justice only slows your healing and allows the perpetrator to continue his abusive control. Therefore you should leave punishment for the diabolic acts of abuse to civil and Church authorities.”[ix]

“No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to hold the priesthood of God,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. No man who abuses his wife or children is worthy to be a member in good standing in this Church. The abuse of one’s spouse and children is a most serious offense before God, and any who indulge in it may expect to be disciplined by the Church.”[x]

The LDS Church is serious about helping abused members find healing and peace. The Church’s press release on sexual abuse emphasizes this. “Helping the victim is of first concern. It is the very nature of Christians to reach out with compassion and love to those who are struggling with the agonies of abuse. It is integral to our ministry. Within the Church, victims can find spiritual guidance that eventually leads to healing through faith in Jesus Christ. Abuse victims are also offered professional counseling so they can benefit from the best of secular expertise, regardless of their ability to pay.
“The Church’s official handbook of instructions for leaders states that the first responsibility of the Church is to help those who have been abused and to protect those who may be vulnerable to future abuse.”

Can there be any doubt where the Church stands on this issue?

The Church’s press release further states “A Latter-day Saint congregation is like a big family, a group of people working together with an attitude of mutual support. The Church has long encouraged families to talk about child abuse, to educate themselves on how to recognize and prevent such tragedies. Since 1976, more than 50 news and magazine articles have appeared in Church publications condemning child abuse or educating members about it. Church leaders have spoken out on the subject more than 30 times at Church worldwide conferences. Child abuse is the subject of a regular lesson taught during Sunday meetings.”[xi]

His Grace is Sufficient

I was taught from childhood that the Atonement made resurrection and repentance possible. I was married with children when I began to understand that the Atonement can also relieve my pain and suffering.

For me the Atonement of Jesus Christ was an exquisite one room house, glorious in every way. As I was inspired to study the Atonement I learned that it was not a one room house, but a mansion on the hill, a mansion with many rooms. The Atonement offered not one gift, but many.

As the eyes of my understanding were opened I began to study grace. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not believe in grace, does it? That’s what I had heard. We believe in works. Grace is what other religions believe.

Discovering grace was like seeing a sunrise for the very first time. We do believe in grace. Grace is the front door to the mansion on the hill. My works may take me up the hill, and through the heavy entrance gates. My works will lead me up the walk, but they cannot take me into the mansion, for grace is the door.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above. [xii]

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is a glorious gift. Because of Jesus Christ we can be resurrected, cleansed, redeemed, and exhalted. We rejoice in these truths, but there is more. There is so much more. The Atonement is not just for sinners. The Atonement offers “beauty for ashes.”[xiii]

Because of Jesus we can be supported and strengthened in every trial. We are not alone. Jesus suffered not only for our sins, but also for our sickness, our pain, and our grief. Though the results of child abuse are devastating, healing is possible through the Atonement and grace of Jesus Christ.
As Elder C. Scott Grow explained, “The Savior felt the weight of the anguish of all mankind—the anguish of sin and of sorrow. ‘Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.’[xiv]

“Through His Atonement, He heals not only the transgressor, but He also heals the innocent who suffer because of those transgressions. As the innocent exercise faith in the Savior and in His Atonement and forgive the transgressor, they too can be healed.”[xv]

The exquisite truth is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and offers comfort and hope in every situation. His Grace is sufficient. We can call on the power of the Atonement to help us through troubling times. Even in the wake of sexual abuse we can find comfort and help. We can know that healing is possible for all involved and we can rely on the Holy Ghost to guide us through the process.

And since he bids me seek his face,
Believe his word, and trust his grace,
I’ll cast on him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer.[xvi]

“I am a survivor of sexual abuse,” said one woman. “Many people kept telling me different ways that I could be healed, and I did try many of them. It wasn’t until I decided one summer that I would read and re-read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament, and learn of Christ, his life and his atonement [that I began to heal]. I read the four gospels about four times and felt the healing power of my Savior and began to fill with peace. I am so thankful for the scriptures and my testimony of the Atonement.”

In the True to the Faith gospel reference manual we read, “Through your faith and righteousness and through His atoning sacrifice, all the inequities, injuries, and pains of this life can be fully compensated for and made right. Blessings denied in this life will be given in the eternities. And although He may not relieve all your suffering now, He will bless you with comfort and understanding and with strength to ‘bear up your burdens with ease.’” [xvii] [xviii]

Some of my favorite scriptures bear the promise of peace, from the Savior of the world. Through the Atonement we can find peace, in this life and throughout eternity.

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”[xix]
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.”[xx]

“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”[xxi]

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[xxii]

One woman wondered why she was born into an abusive family. She endured many types of abuse including sexual. She prayed for understanding. Her answer came one day as she was weeding flowers. “When you plant flowers in your yard, where do you like to plant them?” were the words that came into her mind. I like to plant them in some ugly spot that I want to make beautiful.“That is why you were born into this family. I had an ugly spot that I needed to make beautiful.”

Some abuse victims have felt impressed that they were born into an abusive family to stop the cycle of abuse. Some have felt that they were foreordained to this task.

Let the Spirit heal our hearts,
Through it’s quiet gentle power.[xxiii]

Linda Garner

[i] Herbert Ward
[ii] Susan Evans McCloud, Lord I Would Follow Thee; Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; p.220
[iii] Naomi W. Randall, I Am Child of God, Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 301
[iv] 3 Nephi 9:14
[v] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Waiting on the Road to Damascus; Ensign, May, 2010
[vi] Reid N. Nibley, I Know My Father Lives, Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 302
[vii] Richard G. Scott; To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse; May 2008.
[viii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, For the Strength of Youth, p. 28
[ix][ix] Richard G. Scott; To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse; May 2008.
[x] Gordon B. Hinckley, What are People Asking about Us, Ensign, November 1998.
[xi] Newsroom,, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
[xii] Robinson, Robert, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing; Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1950 edition, p. 70
[xiii] Isaiah 61:3
[xiv] Mosiah 14:4, Isaiah, 53:4,
[xv] C. Scott Grow, The Miracle of the Atonement; Ensign May 2011
[xvi] William W. Walford, Sweet Hour of Prayer: Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 142
[xvii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference Manual, 2004, p.20
[xviii] Mosiah 24:14-15
[xix] Matthew11:28
[xx] John 14:27
[xxi] John 16:33
[xxii] Matthew 11:29-30
[xxiii] Penelope Mood Allen, Let the Holy Spirit Guide; Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 143

His Grace is Sufficient, Part 2

Written by Linda Garner

Is There Forgiveness for the Perpetrator of Sexual Abuse?

Consider this sister’s story. “I was abused as were my siblings when we were younger by a stepfather from hell. We never told anyone because we thought there was something wrong with us. I pushed everything to a distant place where I did not deal with it well. I was thirteen. I am now sixty two. After this last conference the door that had been locked tight was opened and the pain I felt was immense, the hate I had for him beyond words. I felt like I needed to throw up, my stomach hurt so bad.
“I cried for hours with the loss of something so precious in my childhood, and the feelings of being betrayed. I felt all the hate I could and shared it with one of my sisters. I read about forgiveness and then prayed to be able to forgive and felt the love of the Savior…and the release of all that hate and sadness…My mother never knew until I was 18 and getting married, but the important thing is that we can heal and through the love of our Savior Jesus Christ we can be healed and feel loved.”

Addressing the topic of forgiveness for the perpetrator of sexual abuse, Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Now, the work of the Church is a work of salvation. I want to emphasize that. It is a work of saving souls. We desire to help both the victim and the offender. Our hearts reach out to the victim, and we must act to assist him or her. Our hearts reach out to the offender, but we cannot tolerate the sin of which he may be guilty. Where there has been offense, there is a penalty. The process of the civil law will work its way. And the ecclesiastical process will work its way, often resulting in excommunication. This is both a delicate and a serious matter.

“Nevertheless, we recognize, and must always recognize, that when the penalty has been paid and the demands of justice have been met, there will be a helpful and kindly hand reaching out to assist. There may be continuing restrictions, but there will also be kindness.”[i]

The Church offers help to the perpetrator of sexual abuse in the form of counseling, support groups, and addiction recovery programs. The Church’s Addiction Recovery Manual is a wonderful resource for those recovering from addictions of any kind including pornography addictions and sexual addictions. It is available for a nominal fee at Church Distribution Centers. It is also available for free download from the Provident Living section of the Church’s website. See link here

The Addiction Recover Manual is a powerful help to those seeking change and repentance, but it doesn’t stop there. It is powerful medicine for anyone trying to get closer to Christ and for anyone trying to access the healing power of the atonement. This may include perpetrators, victims, and the families of both.

One member shared these feelings about the Addiction Recover Program. “One of the best kept secrets in the Church is the ARP! Every single member (addict or not) who desires to apply the atonement in their life may attend these meetings and use the guide. I have grown so much as I have participated. My testimony has grown and I no longer harbor resentments, anger and fear. ARP is a safe place where we get to share our healing and hope and receive the grace to continue to come unto Christ no matter what has happened to us or what we have done.”

For those seeking to forgive those who have abused them, the Addiction Recovery Program may open doors that seem locked. Forgiveness of such heinous behavior may seem impossible to some, yet complete healing lies beyond the doors of forgiveness.

Complete healing is only possible through the grace of Jesus Christ. His atonement is the miracle that opens those doors. His grace is sufficient.[ii]

My heart is full of love for Thee
Because I know Thou first loved me.
Now by that love I’ll seek to live
And freely, like Thyself, forgive.[iii]

Forgiveness changes us from the inside out and helps us heal, but forgiveness does not mean that we accept or tolerate evil. The abuse must not be swept under the carpet. Forgiveness does not take away the consequences for the perpetrator of evil acts. The perpetrator must be made accountable. As we forgive, we must do what is necessary to stop the abusive acts of others. They must not be allowed to repeat their evil deeds, against us, or against others.

Forgiveness is not easy. It is essential for complete healing. Christ offers us complete healing. Learning to forgive is sometimes like putting a puzzle together, one piece at a time, much as President Uchtdorf described learning to know Christ. Perhaps learning to know Christ and learning to forgive can happen simultaneously.

“Those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed.”[iv]

“Forgiveness,” said Russell Osguthorpe “is a choice. It’s a choice that leads to a personal characteristic—a way of being. It’s really a choice to follow the Savior. It’s a choice to do his will and not ours. It’s a self-forgetful choice. It’s a way of getting outside ourselves, going beyond our own weaknesses and doing what God wants us to do.”[v]

When your heart was filled with anger,
Did you think to pray?
Did you plead for grace, my brother,
That you might forgive another,
Who had crossed your way?[vi]

What Can We Do to Prevent Sexual Abuse?

President Gordon B. Hinckley said “The Church is doing everything it can to strengthen families. Every person and institution must do their part but, in the end, strong, loving and watchful families are the best defense against child abuse.”[vii]

Repairing the damage caused by sexual abuse is possible but difficult. Prevention is preferable. Education is the key. Education can empower children and teenagers to take control of their own bodies. It is essential that children be taught about the sacredness of their bodies and how to respond to those who would misuse their trust.

1. Teach with clarity.

One woman said, “I grew up in a home where sexuality was not discussed. When I was molested by a family member, I had nothing to go on. It was confusing. Someone I loved and trusted was touching me in ways I had never imagined. He told me that it was our secret and I must never tell anyone. ‘No one else will understand,’ he said. ‘If you tell you will get in trouble.’

“The situation might have been different, if I had been taught the truth about sexuality and the sacredness of my body.”

Who would you choose to be your child’s first teacher about intimacy? Who is the most qualified to teach with tenderness and clarity? Who can teach the facts with a gospel perspective? You can be that person.

Teaching about sexuality is sometimes awkward, but with prayerful preparation you can do the job. Have age appropriate conversations and teach with sensitivity and clarity. Such conversations can be formal or casual, planned or spur of the moment.

One mother told me she enjoys talking with her daughters about intimacy one on one during backyard campouts under the stars. The peaceful curtain of night with a backdrop of stars, for her, is the perfect place for a heart to heart talk about sensitive and beautiful matters.

What should we teach about intimacy? You can start by reflecting on this thought from For the Strength of Youth. “Physical Intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife. God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage.”[viii]

When we teach about intimacy, chastity, or sexual abuse, let us not give the impression that sex is dirty. In reality, sex in the right time and place is a beautiful and natural thing, ordained of God.
I remember a particular Young Women’s lesson on chastity. A beautiful flower was compared to one which had been crushed and left to wither. We were taught that if we kept ourselves pure and saved our bodies for marriage we would be like the fresh flower, but if we gave into sexual temptations we would be like the crushed flower. Used. Who wants a marriage partner that has been used?

One family uses peaches with a similar analogy. Ripe juicy peaches are compared with bruised or stale fruit. When leaving on a date their teenagers hear the words “Remember the peaches.”

Such analogies are painful and misleading to those who have experienced sexual abuse. Through no fault of their own they already feel used and unworthy. Bruised. Imagine how they feel when they hear this type of object lesson.

If you carefully consider analogies of this type you will see other flaws. Is sex dirty or undesireable? Does intimacy in marriage also make you used? Are those who marry a second time, due to death or divorce, less desireable because they are used?

There must be better ways to teach chastity.

Children should be taught that their bodies are sacred and private. They should know which parts are private. A simple definition is the body parts that are usually covered by swimsuits. Teach and model modesty. Close the door when using the bathroom. Wear a robe when walking around the house unclothed. Modesty is a lot of little things that help children understand the sacredness of their bodies.
In the True to the Faith gospel reference manual we read “…the human body is God’s sacred creation. Respect your body as a gift from God. Through your dress and appearance you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is.” [ix]

2. Be a Safe Person for your Child to Talk To

Build a trusting relationship with your child. Help your child feel comfortable about talking to you. A parent who is quick to judge or overreact may not feel like a safe person to talk to. Does your child know that you are on his/her side? Are you quick to criticize or to advise? Do you have an open mind? Do you respect your child’s ideas?

No one goes out of their way to talk to someone who makes them feel bad. Be sensitive about your child’s feelings so that he/she enjoys talking to you. Use uplifting language. Be respectful.
Let your child know that he/she can talk to you about anything. Be interested. Be available.
Teach children to tell if anyone tries to touch them inappropriately. Teach children that anyone who asks them to keep secrets from their parents is not a good friend.

3. Build Confidence in your Child

Children with low self-confidence may have a harder time resisting abuse. Confident kids are more resilient and resistant. Abusers sometimes look for kids who lack confidence. Look for ways to build your child’s confidence.

Notice what your child does well and compliment him/her on achievements and successes. Notice good decisions, helpfulness, thoughtfulness. Foster and appreciate success and leadership qualities. Look for opportunities to sincerely praise. Praise from Dad can be especially meaningful.

Success builds confidence. Participation in sports, dance, music lessons, or other such activities can help create confidence. Not all children enjoy the same activities. Find out what your child loves and nurture it. Every child can benefit from learning a skill.

Performing can also be a boost for some children, but not all. Be sensitive to your child’s wishes. Most children enjoy being the star from time to time. If your child resists being in the limelight, help him find other ways to shine. Help your child succeed in school.

Life skills are confidence builders. Give your child opportunity to make decisions, to help make the rules, to help with dinner and other household chores. Children who contribute to family work have higher self-esteem than those who are waited on.

Be a good listener. Let your child know that you value his/her opinion. Children have good ideas. Try them out. Talk things over. Work things out. If your word is law, how will your child learn about compromise and negotiation? How will your child learn about problem solving? Children who have a voice in family decisions can use that voice when confronted with problems in real life. Children who have a voice can use that voice when confronted with abuse.

Spend time together. President Uchtdorf recently reminded us that “In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e.” When you choose time with your child over other activities, you send a strong message about how much you value that child. That’s a big confidence booster.[x]

4. Try Not to Be Paranoid

For most of us the possibility of our children being sexually abused is overwhelming and frightening. We long for a Rapunzel-like tower to lock them in. We could raise them safely by strictly controlling their environment, locking kids in and locking evil out. Tempting, but it’s not the gospel plan. Not only that, it never works.

It is impossible to completely isolate your children from possible sex offenders. Since perpetrators look perfectly normal and don’t wear any badges to identify them, we can’t tell the good guys from the bad. What we can do is teach our children how to deal with the approach.

We have spent decades teaching children to avoid strangers, but in reality a child is nine times more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know and trust. One child began to cry when she was greeted by a substitute primary teacher. “I’m not allowed to be with strangers,” she said with tears in her eyes.

Stranger is a pretty vague word, and in fact most strangers are good kind people. We don’t want our children to be afraid, we want them to be aware. It is better to teach children about the situations or actions they should avoid rather than the type of individual they should avoid.

One family has a rule that no child is allowed to be alone in a room with any man, whether he is a brother, an uncle, a neighbor, or a grandpa.

This may sound like a good idea, but remember abusers can be male or female. An abuser can be another child. An abuser can be a parent. This kind of rule may create a false feeling of security. It can also foster a fear of adult men. How will a young girl learn to trust the man she will someday marry if she has been taught to be afraid of men? Most adult men are not abusers and will likely resent be treated like one.

One woman found that her own father was the abuser of her daughters. Each of the cousins had been abused by a man no one suspected, their grandfather. The woman was devastated. The damage was extensive and healing is still taking place. However, most grandfathers are not abusers. Shall we isolate our children from grandfathers, or shall we learn to be smart and aware.

5. Be Smart

Know where your children are and who they are with. Be familiar with your children’s friends and daily activities. Children should not be left unsupervised for long periods of time. Teenagers and children should not be out alone after dark.

Be sensitive to changes in your child’s behavior. If anything feels different or uncomfortable, check it out.

Know the warning signs of sexual abuse. Notice things like bedwetting, change in eating habits, nightmares, unexplained sadness or fear, anxiety or depression, withdrawal from friends or family.
In teenagers also notice signs of self-loathing, such as negative self-talk, self-destructive behavior, unhealthy attitudes toward the opposite sex. In some cases, drug abuse, drinking, and suicidal thoughts can be an outgrowth of sexual abuse.

Beware of anyone who pays unusual attention to your child, or gives inappropriate or expensive gifts to your child.

Choose babysitters with care.

Trust your feelings. If something doesn’t feel right, pay attention. The Holy Ghost may be trying to get your attention. Follow promptings. Teach your children to recognize promptings from the Holy Ghost. Make the Holy Ghost your best friend.

If you discover abuse, reassure your child or teenager. Abuse is never the child’s fault. Remind your child that he/she is not to blame. Thank your child for trusting you with important information. Talk to your bishop, consult your family physician, and notify the local authorities. Protect your child from further abuse and support your child’s healing in every way.

When a family member is the abuser, some parents are tempted to look the other way. This is devastating to the victim who is already confused about the abusive relationship. Remember that your child’s safety and healing are the first priority. Consider also the danger to other children if the perpetrator is not stopped. Reporting the abuse gives the perpetrator an opportunity to repent and an opportunity for treatment.

Disovering abuse is painful and frightening. Would we rather not know? Of course not. We want to be there for our children. We want to lead them to higher ground. We want to comfort them and teach them about their Savior. We can only do that when we know. The only thing worse than finding out that your child has been sexually abused, is not finding out.

As a young mother, I often wished that I could lock my children away from temptation, adversity, and evil. Wouldn’t we all like to shield our children from harm? We do what we can. We teach, we protect we watch, and in the end we trust.

We trust our children’s judgment because we can’t always be there, and because they need to grow. We trust life to be a thorough teacher. We hope she will be kind. We trust family and friends for strength and support, and we give back. We trust the Holy Ghost to be our compass. The Plan of Salvation will be our map. We trust the atonement to make up for our lack.

We do our best and then we ask our Redeemer to make up the difference. His Grace is Sufficient.

Linda Garner

[i] Gordon B. Hinckley, Personal Worthiness to Exercise the Priesthood, Ensign, May 2002.
[ii] Moroni 10:32, Ether 12:26-27; D&C 18:31; D&C 17:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9
[iii]Alice W. Johnson, O Lord, Who Gave Thy Life For Me (words and music), Ensign, Oct 2002
[iv] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Waiting on the Road to Damascus, Ensign, May 2012
[v] Russell and Lolly Osguthorpe, A Forgiving Heart, BYU Women’s Conference, April 29, 2011
[vi]Bernard of Clairvaux, Did You Think to Pray, Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 140
[vii]Newsroom,, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
[viii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, For the Strength of Youth, 2001, p. 26
[ix] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference Manual, 2004, p. 107
[x] Dieter Uchtdorf, Of the Things that Matter Most, Ensign, November 2010

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A New Heart

I grew up thinking that someday I’d marry a great guy after I was done with school, and we’d have kids, maybe four or five. We all have dreams, right?

I did find my knight in shining armor-even though he says the armor is a bit rusty and tight. Funny guy. The thing is I was in my late 20s when we got married, and didn’t have our first child until after a few years of infertility treatments.

When it was real that I couldn’t carry any more babies, it took a couple of years to decide on an adoption. We started our process with LDS Social Services here in Utah, and went to all the classes that were required of us to qualify for their program. I remember going to those classes and feeling guilty, because there were other couples going through the same thing. I say this because we were the only ones that already had a kid. I listened to their heartbreaking stories, and realized that my point of view was somewhat different, because I’d already gone (or so I thought) through all the rollercoaster of emotions that you embark in when you’re childless. I thought I’d be okay even if we didn’t get another child, even though we felt that our family was not yet complete.

Around the same time, we moved out of state the summer of 1997, due to my husband’s pursuit of furthering his education. We transferred all our papers to the next main office and waited, and waited.

That fall, my firstborn started kindergarten and I was left alone at home most of the day. It just happened that I was called to serve in a Young Women’s presidency, I believe because I had most of my day to myself. I had never been in Young Women as a leader until that time, and it wasn’t pretty.

I hated them. With a passion. I couldn’t be around those girls. It was all I could do to not run away in tears.

Why? Because I saw them as fertile young things. Every time I looked at one of them I thought: ‘I bet she could get pregnant any time she wants.’ I had dark, petty, depressing thoughts. I was lonely, in a strange world, feeling sorry for myself the whole time.

I knew I had to repent. I knew I couldn’t go on like I was doing. I kept getting on my knees and asking for forgiveness and hoping that the Lord in His infinite mercy would hear my prayers. I also asked desperately to be able to receive the blessing of a baby. I didn’t get an answer; the heavens seemed closed to me.

At the same time, we kept getting reports from our social worker. He’d call and let us know that a young mother was considering our file, and we (I) would get our (my) hopes up. And then he’d call to tell us that she’d gone with a different family. I did have some reservations; even though I really wanted to go through with an adoption, I didn’t feel right about getting a baby from a teen mother. I was not sold on the idea, to be honest.

I kept going through the motions of getting ready for weekly activities and preparing lessons for Sunday. I made arrangements with my advisor, so I’d take one Sunday a month. I've heard (later on) that some women that go through this kind of pain get despondent and angry against Heavenly Father. That's a thought that never crossed my mind: I love my Father too much to add to my own pain by having to repent later.

Very slowly and without me realizing it, my heart started to soften towards those precious young women. I started to care for them and got more involved in their lives, dreams, aspirations and pursuits.
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Marcel Proust
At the end of my journey I realized that my heart had given a 180 degree turn and the person I saw in the mirror was so much more than she used to be. I still hadn’t received that which I so much wanted, but I was a better human being, faults and all.

The Lord has said through Moroni:
“Strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that you may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God.
“… see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mormon 9:28–29.)

Because of my experience I have a few pointers to give if you ever feel despondent or left out. These may help you change your attitude towards people around you and especially Heavenly Father:

Pray, Pray, Pray. Always remember that you are a Child of God and that you’re important to Him. He hears prayers and answers them in His time.

Go to the Temple. It’s so very important to feel the Lord’s presence when we feel lonely. Even though we were far from any temples, every time we visited family in Utah we’d take time to go to a session. It renewed our spirits and made us grow closer together as a couple.

Read Your Scriptures. The only way we have to get to know the Lord is by diving into the scriptures. We’ll find hidden treasures there, great understanding and important tips for us alone to follow.

Be of Service. I spent all my time doing things for this group of Young Women, and I learned to be of service to them, their parents and the ward members in general. I learned to look beyond myself, looking for ways to bring joy to someone: single mother, shut-in or anyone in need at the time, if we knew what the needs were. It was a time of spiritual heights that I’ll not soon forget.

At the end of my personal journey with the young women I was a changed person, more thoughtful, more grown up, ready to move on with my life. That group of girls is very special to me in my heart.

Now, the rest of the story.

In the spring of 2000 we were planning to get back to Utah, since my husband’s business was finished. Our papers with LDS Social Services had lapsed the previous December. Our social worker paid us a visit around Christmas and asked us to fill out new forms. We declined saying that we’d given it thought and it didn’t seem like we were going anywhere. He felt sad and asked us to reconsider. We told him we might do that, just to get him off our backs.

Then March 17, 2000, St Patrick’s Day, arrived. A day we’ll never forget. I remember my husband was home and answered the phone. It was our social worker we hadn’t spoken to since Christmas, telling us that a young mother had seen our file and wanted to meet with us, and if we could come to see her, please.  Of course we could!

A series of fortuitous events had taken place. One was that the LDSSS main office for our state was actually in another state. Second, this second office had shared our file with an office in yet another state. By ‘share’ I mean they’d xeroxed our file over. I remember seeing sample files of other couples, and they had actual color pictures in them and they looked like someone had spent time scrapbooking a page to entice a possible birthmother. Our file was not at all like that. It had a very simple picture of our family sitting in the front steps of our house, nothing fancy. It contained a letter to an unknown person, telling her about us, our dreams and aspirations, our likes and dislikes, our backgrounds and personal information. Looking back, I feel naked, because I’m a very private person. Just this account is taking a lot out of me; this kind of report is only geared towards my personal journals, you know?

We did visit with this beautiful young lady, after traveling 1,200 miles. We had a wonderful conversation, we asked questions and received answers, and it was the same from the other end. The Spirit that guided that meeting was so strong, that we made a commitment to each other that we’d live our lives in such a way that we’d meet again some day. We couldn’t bear to part with her, such was the love that we’d immediately felt for her and her supreme sacrifice. We left without a sure knowledge of what she was expecting, because they were not able to ascertain the baby’s sex when she’d had an ultrasound, but it wasn’t important to us. We had a date to expect a phone call and were elated. Just to get to this place and have a visit with this birthmother we had to go and get all our paperwork done again: from work and Church.

We did travel again to pick up our little miracle. Six months after that long trip, we made a short one to the Salt Lake temple to have our baby sealed to our family, and the words of the officiator were so wonderful, because he bestowed upon the infant the same promises given to babies born into the Covenant.

Sometimes I wonder, after all that we've been through, if I'd allow myself to experience this mad rollercoaster of emotions again (it is an ongoing thing), and I have to say that I would. What we have gained as a family is priceless. In the end, all the tears and sadness will be but a memory, but the closeness and family ties will last forever.

Today our family is complete and even though we look back to reminisce how we got to where we are now, our eyes are set on the road ahead and our prayers keep going up to Heaven.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Emotional Abuse in Marriage

I entered marriage believing that it was my job to be selfless and to put my spouse’s needs and desires ahead of my own. I’d heard plenty of talks describing that very recipe for a successful marriage. It took me over a decade of misery to realize that the “successful marriage” recipe works only when both partners follow it.
I had an emotionally abusive relationship.
In the early months of our marriage, my husband gradually showed a different side of himself—one with new problems that hadn’t shown up during our courtship. I had a long list of red flags, but I never saw any—and l looked for them. The changes were subtle at first, but my marriage turned into a classic bait-and-switch.
Soon I no longer recognized the man I married as the one I fell in love with. I naively believed that the problems were because I wasn’t a good enough wife. I must be doing this marriage thing wrong. If I could just be more loving, more supportive, if I could fulfill his every whim, I could solve his—and our—problems.
Surely then he’d be happy. Surely then he’d overcome these new beasts haunting our marriage. If only I could find the magic combination of words and actions, I would be enough to fill up the holes in his spirit.
This belief turned into a vicious cycle: He expected me to fix him. I expected it of myself. I ran on a hamster wheel, frantically seeking a solution, getting nowhere.
It took well over a decade to realize that happiness is a gift impossible to bestow, and that nothing I could do or say (or not do, not say) would ever fill the gaping voids inside him.
We’ve been married nearly two decades now. He still believes that if I were “nicer,” as he puts it, he’d be happier, and all our problems would be solved. One of several snags: his definition of “nice” changes daily, and if I fail to meet today’s expectations—whatever they may be—I face mean and ugly repercussions.
For years I spent my days slaving to soothe him, walking on proverbial egg shells to avoid his anger and punishments. His behavior only grew worse. Although I worked harder—at times hanging on by fingernails—everything was still my fault.
He has an addictive personality, something I didn’t grasp and understand for years, largely because his addictions aren’t in the classic forms. They aren’t drugs or porn, but they’re just as destructive as any other addiction. I’d become his enabler, and he demanded I keep that role.
After about fifteen years, I finally recognized his manipulative and controlling behaviors for what they were: classic emotional abuse. It took me another year or two to get up the courage to approach Church leaders and my husband about it.
When faced with the term “emotional abuse,” he balked.
Wait a minute, he said. He never yelled at me or called me names. True on both counts. He never raised a hand against me.  
But most of all, he said, he never intended to abuse me.
Which I knew. Which is why I didn’t recognize the behavior for what it was for so long.
If intention were the only requirement for abuse, many abusers would be innocent. Any kind of abuse—physical or emotional or any other kind—is rationalized in the mind of the abuser. Of course they don’t see their behavior as abusive.  
At times, they may see their words and actions as loving: his wife has the power to create his personal happiness! She can make up for any insecurities and voids in himself. She’s that powerful. And it’s her job.
All lies.
The truth: constant criticism, trivialization of my problems, guilt trips, silent treatments, control, manipulation, patronizing, belittling, physical and emotional withdrawal, and so much more were abusive. Classic emotional abuse.
To his credit, while he maintained that he wasn’t abusive, eventually he agreed that maybe he should change some behaviors. Within a few months, he complained he’d “tried hard” to change, but it didn’t “work.” The barometer he used to base his success? My behavior wasn’t “nice” enough in return.
I wanted to weep.
We were back at square one. He wasn’t doing anything for the sake of becoming a better person, for making up for almost two decades of emotional abuse. He wasn’t repenting. He wasn’t trying to be better because that is what Christ would want of him as a man, husband, disciple, and priesthood holder.
No, he changed a few specific behaviors for a short period in hopes of getting a specific reaction from me. As I could never predict what that expected behavior should be, of course I failed in being “nice” enough. Therefore, he was justified in being depressed, withdrawn, critical. Abusive.
It’s been nearly two years since I first used the “A” word with him, and just as long to come to grips with part of my role in all this. An emotionally abusive relationship becomes a complex web that’s hard to unravel. I’ve had to step back and think, hard. In spite of his logical arguments that made me believe that, “Whoa, I am evil! He’s right! Why would I do such-and-such?” that no, he is wrong. He is manipulating me.
I’ve done nothing wrong.
Most importantly: No matter what he believes, I cannot fill the holes in his spirit. No matter how hard I try to give, give, give, his spirit is like a sieve—any offering drips right out, and he remains as empty as before. My efforts are like a fix for a drug addict. He feels better for a few moments, but when the pseudo-happiness passes, he blames me for the feeling going away.
If only I were a better, nicer, kinder wife, then he’d be happy.
I’m in a new stage now, one he finds disturbingly painful: I will not allow myself to be abused any longer. After being mentally manipulated for so long, figuring out what is normal, where boundaries should be, is surprisingly harder than it sounds. I have to analyze every situation, figure out when the moment requires calling him out on his behaviors or staying quiet—either could be engaging in unhealthy behavior, depending on the situation.
I must learn to not take his behavior personally, because it’s not about me, even though he thinks it is and will try to make me believe it is. As it turns out, I’m not unworthy. I’m not a bad person.  His unhappiness and addictions are not my fault. And I cannot fix him.
Best of all, I’m not crazy for thinking that something was wrong all this time.
I’ve given everything, but it’s never been enough for him. My best is, however, good enough for the Lord, and He is the only one I need to satisfy.
I must constantly remind myself that being a good wife does not mean being a victim. It does not mean carrying his burdens to the point that I’m suffocating. It does not mean taking on guilt when I am innocent of wrongdoing. I still struggle with self-worth and doubt. I’ve been beaten down mentally and emotionally for so long, I hardly know what a normal reaction should be anymore.
The irony is that almost no one has the slightest inkling that anything could be wrong. People often assume my husband is the Mormon ideal and tell me how lucky I am. So I live in silent pain.
If nothing else, this trial has taught me to never judge another person’s life. I cannot know what they’re going through, just as they have no idea what I’m dealing with.

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