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On Chastity and Virtue

In recent days, the subjects of chastity and virtue have risen again to the top of my thoughts as the allegations against Joseph L. Bishop became public. A quick Google search will bring you up to date on just what the allegations are, but to summarize, a 55 year old woman is finally being taken seriously about abuses that occurred in 1984. I believed it as soon as I heard it, and it was cemented more for me when I read the entire transcript. Others are of different opinions. I could go into a lot of detail about what red flags I saw all over the place in the transcript itself, in addition to Bishop’s own problematic admissions, and began an attempt to do so earlier today. I decided that my judgment of the situation is not what matters. I do hope that due diligence is given to resolving this matter legally, as well as administration of just consequences from the church. I wish I could reach out to the woman personally, particularly to the young woman who suffered so in 1984 – I would hug her and cry with her. To her I would say, “This abuse was not your fault. All is not lost. I believe you. There are still good men.”

Often, the main ideas floating in my brain become apparent in a convenient little package that lends itself well to creating a Facebook post. This was the case today as well, as I contemplated what it was I was wanting to write. If this post was to have a title, it would be “What I Wish the Saints Understood About Rape”. Let me quote that for you:

I would love to see a “Gospel Topics Essay” on lds.org reiterating the church’s current stance on sexual abuse. I think too many members are still operating with attitudes reflecting what was understood about the meaning of virtue in the 1970s.

Let’s be clear here.

1) A rapist does not have the privilege of taking your chastity and virtue from you. These are inherent spiritual traits, despite suffering and trauma in the physical body.

2) Rape is always a rapist’s fault. Nothing you say or do makes their crime justified.

3) A victim of sexual abuse is not guilty of any sin and has no need of repentance, though ecclesiastical leaders can be helpful in helping the victim to find peace and healing through referral to qualified professionals as well as offering comfort and blessings.

4) It is better to survive, no matter what that takes. You are not better off dead than living as a rape survivor. It is human to have many different reactions to physical threats, those who freeze are no more guilty than those who flee or fight. Freezing is not “allowing the rape to happen”.

5) While I personally choose to cover my body because of my love for God, women are not responsible for men’s thoughts. No matter how a woman dresses, she is not asking to be raped and should not be treated as if she provoked this terrible crime.

6) Repentance is possible, but only when the perpetrator is honest in completely confessing, forsaking, accepting the consequences of their actions in the church and outside of it, and seeking forgiveness from those they have harmed.

All of these ideas can be found in one form or another, in the teachings of current church leaders. They are not new. I’m going to focus this post on the nature of chastity and virtue. But I truly do find that many are sticking to counsel from “dead prophets” over living ones. It is 100% true that Spencer W. Kimball said the following in his celebrated book “The Miracle of Forgivenss”:

“Also far-reaching is the effect of the loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

He also quoted David O. McKay, saying,

“Your virtue is worth more than your life . . . preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives.”

I do believe that these men were called of God to be latter-day prophets. I respect and love them. I do not know their mind at the time that these quotes were written or said, but I do know that they have caused endless heartache to victims of sexual abuse, whether or not that was the intention. I can only assume that there are multiple dimensions and definitions to chastity and virtue, as I honestly cannot imagine a prophet of God looking me in the eye and saying, “Did you fight hard enough?”, “What were you wearing?”

If we view chastity and virtue as being only the state of having been untouched or unpenetrated, than yes, a rapist takes your chastity away, and you’ll never get it back. But this idea is so very narrow. In my view, it limits the power of Christ to heal us from all that is unfair in life. (It also makes one unchaste on their wedding night, which we also know is incorrect.) This definition, however, seems to be the one on which the first quote by Kimball hinges. If that was all that chastity and virtue meant, then the future of a victim is truly bleak. But let’s look at the definition of chastity as it is taught today:

Chastity is sexual purity. Those who are chaste are morally clean in their thoughts, words, and actions. Chastity means not having any sexual relations before marriage. It also means complete fidelity to husband or wife during marriage.

This quote turns the focus from the physical state of virginity, to moral cleanliness in “thoughts, words, and actions”. There is nothing here that tells me that being raped would take my chastity away from me. It is only my thoughts, my words, and my actions that define my worthiness before God.

Now onto virtue. The definition of virtue in English is, “behavior showing high moral standards”. It has also been taken to be synonymous with “sexual purity” rather than “purity”. When Jesus felt the virtue to have gone out of him in Mark 5:30, we understand virtue to be more accurately defined as “power”. I would submit that perhaps it was in the English sense that David O. McKay meant his quote (he was after all, quite a scholar), as this would be something truly worth defending, and being willing to die for. It seems more in keeping with what the an adherent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ spends their lives doing. I would say Spencer W. Kimball’s misunderstandings may have stemmed simply from that difference of definitions.

In the early church we know that many women were raped as they were persecuted and mobbed by those who hated the Mormons. These were good, pure, virtuous women, who were certainly not “asking for it”. They were grateful to have survived and to have lived to see Zion. They blessed the lives of many through their testimonies and examples of faith and righteousness. For Pete’s sake, Eliza R. Snow was gang-raped in Missouri. I simply do not believe that the definition of virtue and chastity was ever meant to apply as something one could lose under these circumstances. Prophets from Joseph Smith on down for many years were acquainted with them personally. Would they look them in the eye and tell them that they should have died instead?

This was not a teaching that came from those who knew and loved those women. This was an idea and theory that could have only sprung from a complete misconception, and a bit of a disconnect to our own past as well. We, as a church, should be willing to acknowledge past wrongs, and lest we despair, recall that the Lord has never claimed that his servants were perfect. Despite past wrongs, we can change for the better now. I think President Kimball would be the first to correct himself had he known the far reach and extent of pain that came from his misunderstanding of what chastity and virtue mean.

These inherent traits can only be lost through deliberate and rebellious choice. And even though they can be lost, they can still be regained. Even the most vile of sinners, can be cleansed, purified, and healed through Jesus Christ. A truly repentant individual can live a chaste and virtuous life, completely clean and whole in the eyes of the Lord. More relevant to my theme, is that any of the “fallout” suffered by a victim of sexual abuse, is likewise able to be covered and healed by the power of Jesus Christ. It takes time, and it hurts, but God is bigger than anything that life can throw at us.

 

 

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Why I Love Dallin H. Oaks

Many view the newly assigned counselor to President Nelson as a “hard man”. I can understand that point of view and acknowledge that he has often undertaken to tackle the difficult subjects with logic and a firm base in doctrine.

However, I would like to share a personal experience I had, that showed me something more.

In my freshman year of college, I had my “me too” moment, as mentioned in a previous post. I had been used and abused, and felt dirty and broken, despite my innocence in the matter. It was hard for me to believe at the time, that I could truly be considered clean, since I had “let” it happen by missing so many red flags. Weeks after the fact, I felt hollow as I went through the motions of college life. I felt like everyone could see through me and knew what had happened. I felt guilt as I read and studied words that had once been comforting to me in the scriptures. I falsely believed that it would be better if I were dead, than to have to endure the soul-crushing feeling of being “used goods”. (I reiterate that that was a 100% false belief.)

I remember almost floating to the devotional where we would hear Elder Oaks speak. Ashamed to even be in his presence, almost. But my roommate wanted to go and try to sit as close as possible. We were able to sit a few rows into the stadium seating of the Marriott Center, which was pretty darn close. Honestly, I can’t tell you anything he said in his devotional address that Tuesday morning. It was over sooner than it had begun it seemed. My roommate pulled me up, and into the crowd of students on the floor. We wove forward as Elder Oaks reached for every outstretched hand he could reach. I didn’t really try to reach, but secretly hoped that an apostles touch could help to heal my shattered heart. His hand found mine. And I grasped it gently and let mine fall so he could move on to the next person.

We turned and began to walk away and I felt something at my arm. Elder Oaks had reached for me again. He was practically diving for my hand over about three layers of people. He took it firmly and held it for longer and looked me in the eyes. There was no judgment there. No disapproval. Only love.

I knew then, as I know now, that it was the Savior’s hand reaching to me through the hand of his special witness. I have never once questioned since then, that Dallin H. Oaks is a chosen servant of God. And I am pleased to sustain him in his new role as 1st Counselor to President Russell M. Nelson.

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To the Parents of Special Needs Children

Hi there. I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a little over a year now, and I think I can finally write it because there is finally a positive outcome to report. Those who know me personally, likely know the story behind this post. It has been a long and hard road to feeling a little more peace about it.

The background (in a nutshell) is this: my oldest son has autism and ADHD, and last year we had a very bad experience with an extracurricular activity. The teacher (lashing out over a personal issue she had with me) kicked my son out of a program that had only two sessions left because he “was a danger to the class”.

This wasn’t true, but some people are not worth arguing with.

In the words of Hermey, “you can’t fire me, I quit”. We hashed out the issue further with someone at a higher level, and they tried to make things right with us and arranged for us to be able to try again with another teacher at another location. We cut ties and got the heck outta Dodge.

My little son suffered. Wondering why he was not allowed to go to his class anymore and see his friends. To fill his void, I sent an e-mail to a preschool program recommended by his therapist, explaining, briefly, our predicament. And adding this plea: do you have room and can you love my little boy?

The answer was “YES!”

And love him they did. They loved and work to heal my little boy and our whole family. My again confident, and fun-loving boy was able to practice coping skills for his sensory issues and grew so much in six months that I am eternally grateful. (When I have a million dollars, I am going to make a large donation to Rodef Shalom Congregation’s Family Center in Pittsburgh.)

And then we moved. Would I be able to find people in our new home to love and care for my little boy in the way that they had at Rodef Shalom? We all cried when we left that wonderful place for the last time.

Now, we have picked up that extracurricular program again here. And after about two weeks in it, my little boy lost his fear. “Miss Annie is different from my old teacher. She doesn’t scare me. She loves me.” And I had to agree. She is a gentle and patient teacher, and has done so much to help my boy recover from some major trauma that I didn’t know the depth of. I had no idea how afraid he had been, and how scared he had been to go to his class in Pittsburgh. Miss Annie knows and understands that all children… are children. She made accommodations to allow my son to be comfortable in her class. Even though he is perhaps a little more wiggly than the others in his class, she has never had a complaint for me and is always happy to see him. He finished his first level here, with no problems.

We have also felt great love and inclusion from our neighborhood school. They’ve worked with us from the beginning to ensure that my boy is happy at school and getting equal access to a good education. He is learning and capable and functioning extremely well. He sits on the rug with his class instead of in a corner now, because of appropriate patience and goal-setting. He knows when he needs to take a break to calm himself, because she helped to teach him how. His teacher is wonderful and open with me, and truly delighted at my boy’s imagination. I can tell that she loves him.

So what am I getting at?

ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD. This isn’t sheltering, it isn’t raising a special snowflake. It is helping your child learn to cope in a safer environment, because eventually they will have to weather some storms. They need to be able to cling to love, when things get hard.

Two things:

First, never feel obligated to keep your special needs child in a situation that is bringing them undue harm. No amount of money is too great to lose, and the sunk costs of time and effort are worth the loss.  What happened to my son in Pittsburgh was emotional abuse, and I wish I’d known sooner so I could have saved him from more pain and suffering. Were things socially awkward from time to time? Oh, yes. But, as an adult, you are more capable to dealing with socially awkward than putting your child’s broken heart back together quickly. It is okay to quit.

Second, there will always be someone else who WILL love your child. And who WILL treat your child with kindness and respect. Ask for help from trusted friends and acquaintances. Do they know a place that is open and inviting? There will be more than one. There will be many. Look for those people and places, and you will find them. And when your child notices the difference, don’t be afraid to be frank with them. Not everyone in the world will always be nice to them, and not everyone in the world will want us. However, there will always be people that will be happy to have you for a friend. It goes for your child, and it goes for you.

A final thought:

I’ve prayed for the last year for healing and resolution and peace for myself, and for my son. I know that the Lord reached out through good and kind people back in Pittsburgh and in our new home in Colorado. The piece of my heart that longs for justice, still cries from time to time, but it isn’t weeping anymore. Its being hugged by all the other pieces that are filled with so much love for my little boy.

 

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To Boldly Go

Sometimes going boldly, means just going.

If you’ve ever been somewhere where you didn’t feel like you quite fit in, you’ll know the feeling. It takes guts to go anyway.  You might have struggles you don’t feel like anyone else is dealing with. You might have questions. You might be annoyed. Maybe you, like me, just occasionally feel smothered.

In the past, I’ve hidden in the church mothers’ lounge with my baby even if it wasn’t strictly necessary for the baby. Right now I don’t have a baby to excuse myself with. I was alone with my three kids at church last week. I felt like I couldn’t keep them under control and consequently I lost control of myself. Every time someone spoke to me, my eyes would start to leak, and then they would start to cry because I trigger that in people, and then we’d both be crying and it was a mess. I was so obviously not okay, that people felt compelled to come ask me if I was okay.

So last week, I retreated to my car for 2 of the 3 hours of church. It was the best I could manage that day.

Maybe for you it is church, school, or the grocery store. It could be something you planned yourself and you all of a sudden feel like you’d rather curl up in your comforter like a burrito.

You might not walk in feeling like a rock star. But I’m here to tell you that is just what you are.

Thank you for being there. And going. And doing. Even if you are just in your car. I know that took a lot for you to do.

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Me too.

Today, I’ve seen so many people reach out to others through the #metoo campaign. It is so sad that so many have suffered these injustices. It is so wrong to violate and abuse  another person, and it breaks my heart that so many suffer in silence because they fear they won’t be believed – or that the harassment or abuse or assault is somehow their fault.

I don’t think anyone ever comes out of a situation like this feeling like there isn’t something they might have done differently to have kept it from happening. It’s human nature to analyze the things that happen to us. I spent a good deal of time thinking of what I could have done differently. In my case, I was abused by a boyfriend. He a very flawed individual with a lot of emotional trauma of his own, and me a naive and compassionate individual who wanted to make it all better. (In hindsight I can see that I was groomed over several months, the control and manipulation from his side disguised as love and concern.)

I won’t go into details of what the actual abuse was, it certainly isn’t something that many would even consider to be “so bad”. Nevertheless, I was left feeling like a worthless and empty shell. I felt so ashamed, and so guilty for all the things I hadn’t done to keep this terrible thing from happening to me. I felt so hurt that someone I loved could use me in this way. Not knowing what else to do I went to my bishop.

I’ve heard countless stories of people who have been raked over the coals in recalling their emotional trauma. It made me afraid of what would happen. Would I lose my place at my university? Would I still be allowed to take the sacrament? I felt so unclean and dirty that I decided I was willing to do anything I could to not feel that way, even if I lost everything I had worked for.

I scheduled my appointment and saw my bishop within 48 hours of the incident. I thank God every day that this was a man who understood abuse, and its effect on a person’s ability to defend themselves. After listening to me, he assured me that there was nothing here for me to repent of. That I was a victim. And that what was done was NOT my fault. No, there was no need for me to do anything differently at church. I could still pray, and speak, and take the sacrament. And no, there was no need to have any disciplinary action from the school. I was to go, and have fun with my friends, and stay as far away from this boy as humanly possible to avoid being hurt again. He gave me some scriptures to read to aid in comforting my wounded spirit, and on later occasions as I remembered more details that concerned me, he would patiently listen and assure me again, that nothing I had to say, would change the mind and will of the Lord, who had pronounced me guiltless.

I had to remind myself of this many times over the years. Through the grapevine, I still knew that the boy had not had to suffer in the same way as I had. Though my bishop communicated with his bishop, he still attended BYU and still served a mission. I continued to suffer in small ways over the years.

I didn’t feel safe going anywhere alone, because I was afraid I would run into him on campus. He liked to make small talk as if nothing had happened. He’d spy on me through mutual friends, who I had to block on social media to protect myself. One poignant moment, was having to state in my mission papers in excruciating detail why I would not be willing to serve in the country that this boy was serving. Multiple times in my early marriage, I questioned my dear husband’s motives from innocent comments about housework to his desires for intimacy. I looked out our Wymount apartment and saw a lookalike, and I had a panic attack, and told my husband we would have to move. I could not be in a ward with this boy. My abuser continued to hurt me even though he wasn’t there anymore.

When we moved to Pittsburgh, I saw a friend of his in the hall at church and had another panic attack. I feel like wherever I go, he will always follow me. If not in person, in memory. After nightmares, and constant reminders over a course of nearly 10 years, I finally went to therapy at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR). I had to write my story and learn grounding techniques, and reason to myself why my fears were unfounded. I had to work. Somehow, I doubt that my abuser was putting the same amount of work into some kind of recovery for his addictions and habits. I’d snap at my husband on the way to and from therapy. I’d be a mess for the whole day. But it was worth it, because through therapy, I was able to finally see and accept what my bishop knew all those years before. That I truly was a victim, and once I knew that I didn’t have to continue to be a victim anymore.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse.

And that is why I say, #metoo.

I will never name a name. Because I never want this boy to have any attention or power to hurt me ever again. That is what is right for me. But if you feel you need to speak out, and name names, #ibelieveyou.

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The Pink Snowsuit

When I was in my teens, I dreamed of my future family. I really really wanted a huge family. Twelve kids, I said. My husband felt the same when we got married.

After the difficulty of bringing our first child into the world, our second being born 21 months after the first, a loss, and our third son, that number dropped to 8.

Right now, the ideal number hovers around 6 for me. Husband is okay with things the way they are, but wouldn’t mind a couple more either.

I’ve been dreaming of a little girl for years. (I was sure my oldest was a girl and finished a beautiful pink and yellow knitted blanket the day before the ultrasound. He’s 6 now.)

I actually knew my second was a boy from the day I found out I was pregnant. I heard his name in my mind clear as day.

When second son was about a year old, I chose to go with my husband to England for one conference rather than New Zealand in December, as we were planning for a third baby and I felt sure I’d be expecting and quite pregnant by then. Not only did I lose a baby while in England, but I was also NOT pregnant by the time New Zealand rolled around. I’m still a little bitter about missing that trip. But my heart hurt more for the baby I lost.

Fortunately, we were blessed to have our third son the next year.

Afterwards, my body felt like it was acting up again. I don’t have periods for a long time after giving birth. So that part was expected, but when they did come back, the pain was severe. (I’ve mentioned in a previous post about my experience with my second laparoscopy for my endometriosis.) Since then, I have carefully tracked my cycles. Hoping that we would be able to try for another baby with success.

For the past six months, I’ve been surprisingly regular. 28 days on one side. 31 on the other. Ovulation kits, etc. Things have been looking okay. Pain is significantly decreased.

This past month, I did a test and it was negative. I waited a few more days and having more symptoms consistent with pregnancy, I was pretty sure I was pregnant and over the moon excited. I had vivid dreams about a baby girl, and continued to track the multitude of other symptoms I was experiencing. I was so happy to be sick.

It meant my body wasn’t broken beyond child-bearing. That my husband and I weren’t as subfertile as we previously thought (yes, I understand we are very blessed to have 3 children and people have had it harder, but it wasn’t easy for us as it might look to an outsider). I was so filled with hope and gratitude and joy. I relaxed.

Over a week after my expected period, it was over. I don’t know if there was a baby or if my cycle was just thrown out of whack. But my dream baby vanished. She was real to me.

In my house I have things that I have had set aside for my baby girl. The blanket, my baby dresses, a little lovey with a doll attached, a pink snowsuit we found in the summer on clearance. They wait in my cedar chest.

The day after my latest disappointment, a friend was given an emergency foster placement. A newborn baby girl. I packed up our crib and took it over that night so that little one would have a place to sleep.

This morning, it snowed in Colorado.

This morning, I unpacked a pink snowsuit. The Spirit whispered to me that I needed to give it to this little baby. The Lord loves her, and had provided that snowsuit for her. It was hard to do, because I felt almost like I was giving up my dreams of a baby girl.

I was reassured, however, that this wasn’t an act of giving up. This was a giving to God, and trusting in his timing. I might be able to have another baby. I might not. I might be able to have my baby girl. I might not.

Even though my heart is broken, and perhaps my body, too, the Lord can make me whole. A little piece came back to me as I hung a pink snowsuit on my friend’s door.

 

 

 

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Stars, Homesickness, and Cookies

Over the summer, we moved to a new state. I can’t begin to describe the crushing homesickness I feel. I almost cried when I had to look up the address to our old pediatrician’s office in Pittsburgh today on Google Maps and saw all the little stars on every place I loved near our old home.

The stars represent people and memories and love and inclusion and belonging. Here I feel like a star without a constellation of friends.

Last weekend, I watched a the General Women’s Session (#LDSconf check it out here). It was nice to sit and recharge and listen to the messages, but I missed sitting in someone’s home watching with other sisters. I’d asked if that was a thing here, too, but was told there wasn’t anything planned.

Social media is a gift and a curse, while I feel connected to a lot of people I love, it is also a great way to feel left out. Yes, there were likely people who got together to watch. I just wasn’t invited. (Yes, I understand everyone can’t be invited to everything, but there has to be a better way to deal with situations like this.)

Now this has happened to me before, and it never gets any easier. I find myself analyzing what it is about me that leads to being excluded. I have my theories, none of them particularly happy or anything I can do something about.

In that conference session I was talking about, President Uchtdorf told a story about three sisters named Sad, Mad, and Glad (read it). I don’t want to be like Sad or Mad. I want to be Glad. There are people who have it so much harder, and I know that this is definitely in the category of suburban mom problems. Nevertheless…

I want to make sure other people are never made to feel the way I have felt.

So I’ll try to invite and include, rather than worrying about fitting in or being liked.

I want to spend my life “singing [my] song with all [my] might and a confident smile on [my] face.  One of my favorite songs is making sugar cookies.

Yes, cookie parties are going to be in full swing again. Because the only way I know how to deal with loneliness is to let small children run wild in my house with sprinkles and frosting.

Everyone’s invited.