Now Let Me be [...]

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deeply.
Let it ferment and season you
As few humans
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,
My need for God
- Hafiz
Several years ago, I was watching a documentary on PBS called The Buddha. Part of the film discussed meditation, and it made so much sense to me that it continues to transform the way I think as well as the way I react in certain situations. Specifically, one of the monks talked about meditation as an avenue for really experiencing emotions. He said, "Meditation isn't about getting rid of anger, getting rid of lust, or getting rid of jealousy. What most happens in our ordinary life is whenever we experience these emotions, we get stuck into it. It starts twisting us, but [meditation] is going through inside it and getting out of it peacefully. And I think that gives us more joy. That makes human life more full, more round. We're not living a partial truth, but it's like the whole of things together."

I've worked more and more at practicing this in meditation. If I am angry, if I am sad, if I am joyful, I try to give myself time and space to feel the whole of these emotions. I'm still learning, but I've found it to be helpful in how I react in certain situations. If I understand where and how my anger happens, and have practiced going through it and coming out of it, it changes my interactions with whatever has triggered it. I think we too often try to slough unpleasant emotions. They don't feel good. But not allowing ourselves to experience them comes to seem more and more like a disservice to our fullness - our wholeness.

Life is just sad sometimes. By allowing ourselves to experience all of the nuances of emotion, by going through them, we can help keep ourselves from being swallowed up by them.

I recently made a connection between this type of meditation and Jesus's suffering in Gethsemane. A commonly held belief of Christ's suffering is that during the atonement, Christ was suffering for all of the sins of humanity. He was experiencing all that we would ever feel, feeling the weight of every sin we would commit. As he left his disciples to go pray in the garden, he began to be sorrowful and very heavy.

His soul was heavy.

That's what grief feels like. He experienced all that we would because he took the time, in all of its unpleasantness, to go through it and get to the other side. It was agonizing. He asked, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt." And as he passed through the sorrow, both of that night and in the days to come, redemption was on the other side.

The work of going through something and coming peacefully out of it leads to its own kind of redemption. The more we are able to go through emotion, the more we learn to trust ourselves and the belief that it will all work out. 

I'm finding more peace in this on my faith journey. I've been angry, sad, and confused at why I didn't feel right in the Mormon church. I spent years trying to dismiss those emotions: I just needed to work harder, and I would be happy - "If I could just figure out what I'm doing wrong, I'd gladly fix it, and then I won't be so conflicted." When I finally started allowing myself to process, without the weight of arriving at one specific answer, I started feeling peace. Realizing that my spirituality wasn't contingent on Mormonism was a huge relief. Understanding that God and truth and love and eternity don't hinge on one church was also a huge relief. The realization wouldn't have come if I would have kept trying to sweep my emotions under the rug. Rainer Maria Rilke said:
Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer. 
While there is still a part of me (a pretty big part of me) that holds out hope that Mormonism will be a choice I make someday, I am at peace with the path I'm on. I'm growing and changing. I'm living the questions and finding answers all at the same time right now. My meditation often takes the form of prayer, and one that I utter often is this: Dear God, I don't know where I'll end up. But I know you're the way.    

One final thought on going through emotions: I keep a private blog, and I posted this poem there in March, but I feel like it belongs with this post. It's called Now Let Me be Sad by Emma Lou Thayne. (Thayne also wrote the words to one of my favorite hymns, Where Can I Turn for Peace?)

Now let me feel sad. Impulse, trained in gladness,
Do not try to whisk me away from grief
Like a child caught sulking in a corner
Immobilized by imagined hurt.

Instead, let me grow rich with my sadness.
Let it mellow and strengthen my joy,
Take bold hold of my will,
Give tears permission to water the parch of loss.

Let its music ripple my spine,
Let me give ardent ear,
To what was, to what never will be.
Grief, be my companion in joy.

In the numberless calls acquainting me with the Night,
Bring me to my senses, numberless too
In abandoning numbness and the faint iridescence
Of busyness, crowds, brief entertainments.

Like walking into a sea, only in depth can I float,
Depth, too often feared for its power,
To raise me footloose and struggling
Is all that can gentle me back to the shore:

Safe, breathing in the cosmos of the sweet unknown
Full of the light of having been sad.

Here and There

I just sneezed, and all of the tissues that were sitting on my chest flew elsewhere. 

We've been sick around here. Today is the first day I'm admitting it. For myself anyway. The trash can in my bathroom is overflowing with tissues, but I don't really feel like emptying it. It's an insult to the injury of the common cold. 

I officially have three days in the books of being gluten-free. Migraines have been back with a vengeance in the last month or so. I started getting 2-3 per week again, which was similar to the frequency with which they were coming shortly after we moved to Los Angeles. Last fall, I started following the "Healing Psoriasis" diet, and, for a time, I cut out gluten as well. I was obviously eliminating a lot of things, but gluten seemed to have the most effect on migraine frequency - that's with already knowing that my biggest migraine trigger is lack of adequate sleep. I feel like my sleep has been sufficient lately, so now I'm singling out gluten specifically this time to see if it's related.

One of the classes I help teach at work is a reading class for students who aren't quite ready to move into college level English classes. The reading levels range from 2nd grade to around 8th grade. I love these students. Today they took a reading assessment exam as part of what will determinewhat English class they will be in next semester. 

One of my students in a stroke survivor. He already has a degree, and was very much at the top of his game in his career when, at 31, a massive stroke changed everything. He was alone when it happened, and wasn't found for three days. He spent a month in the hospital in the city where he was living before he was stable enough for his parents to move him to California. He spent the next year learning to walk and speak again. He has been in various types of therapy in the 5 years since his stroke and is taking the reading class at the recommendation of his speech pathologist.

When I handed him the reading assessment exam, he looked at me, and uttered a few words that let me know he'd like for me to read it with him. We went into the conference room attached to our classroom space, and I read the article and each question of the test.

I've loved spending this semester with him for two reasons in particular.

1. It is endlessly fascinating witnessing how his mind reconstructs language that was lost. Little things like association - the word of the page is "mountain," but he says "hill." Sometimes I look at him and know that the words are all there, other times, I know we're creating meaning on a blank slate. The mind is amazing. His mind has shown me just how much it is.

2. His sheer determination. I can't imagine what it would be like to have such a big before and after event. To still be "me," but not have the same ability to express that in the world. Be it through language, or movement, or possessions, or any number of things. He lived in New York, and he owned a beach house in La Jolla. He was a merchandise planner for a major international retailer. After the stroke, those things weren't part of him anymore. But who he was to work for those things still is. He was athletic and now he has to work diligently to get one side of his body to move. Words used to just come, and now he not only has to think to make each sound he utters, but also sift through a vastly reduced vocabulary for the right words. He doesn't need to be coming to a reading class at a community college, but he only knows one trajectory. Forward. It is inspiring. It is the most amazing kind of strength. 

I've been reading through the Quran. While I know bits and pieces about Islam, I find my knowledge too patchy for my liking. I thought the Quran would be a good start. Right away, I wished I knew Arabic so I could read the original text. I'm not very far in, but I'm already surprised by how many stories I know. Common ground.

I must go to bed now. My brain and my eyes and my sinuses have had enough. 

More Thoughts on the Most Recent Policy Update from the Mormon Church

Last night, Mormon Newsroom released a video interview with D. Todd Christofferson to help clarify the what and why of the policy update. You can find the video here.

I think the "what" of the policy update was already pretty clear; I can read, and they didn't mince their words. With the what taken care of, the "why" was left. The official why came in two parts, and neither were surprises. The first why was for clarification:
With the Supreme Court's decision in the United States there was a need for a distinction to be made between what may be legal and what may be the law of the church and the law of the lord and how we respond to that. So it's a matter of being clear, a matter of understanding right and wrong, a matter of firm policy that doesn't allow for question or doubt.
Boom. No question or doubt. [They actually said it.] In the LDS Church, acting on the urges of same-gender attraction is a serious transgression that is grouped among sins like attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, and fornication. Got it. [See, they didn't mince their words.] The second why, as it relates to why children of same-sex couples were included in the policy update:
This policy originates out of [...] compassion. It originates from a desire to protect children in their innocence, in their minority years. 
Here are some examples he gives to help clarify how the policy protects these children.
When, for example, there is a formal blessing and naming of a child in the church, which happens when the child has parents who are members of the church, it triggers a lot of things. First, a membership record for them, it triggers the assignment of visiting and home teachers, it triggers an expectation they will be in primary and the other church organizations, and that is likely not going to be an appropriate thing in the home setting, in the family setting, where they're living as children where their parents are a same-sex couple. We don't want there to be the conflicts that that would engender. We don't want the child to have to deal with issues that might arise where the parents feel one way and the expectations of the church are very different. And so with the other ordinances on through baptism and so on. There's time for that if, when a child reaches majority, he or she feels like that's what they want, and they can make an informed, conscious decision about that, nothing is lost to them in the end if that's the direction they want to go. In the meantime, they're not placed in a position where there will be difficulties, challenges, conflicts that can injure their development in very tender years. 
I doubt a church would ever do something they really felt was punishing children, and I agree with part of what he said. It is difficult for a child to hear something at church and see their family doing something that conflicts with it. It's confusing, and it does put the child in a hard spot. BUT! If they're going to start painting swaths intended to protect children, it's unfair to focus on such a small, specific group.

If the intent is to make it easier for a child in his/her home and family life, then the minority group of same-gender parent families should not be the main target. Children who have been abused, heterosexual couples who violently argue, a parent who's committed adultery, those who have political persuasions that sometimes conflict with the teachings of the church, children born out of wedlock, etc.. My list could be a mile long of all the things that would make a home and family life one that is in conflict with the teachings of the church. Why aren't we protecting those children in this manner, too? Does the child of a murderer need to disavow her parent's act before she can be baptized or serve a mission? Does a child born to an unwed mother need to say, "What my parents did is wrong," before he can be baptized or serve a mission? How many times have children who are being abused been baptized and grown up in the church while living in difficult homes. The answer: it happens all the time. Where is the same protection and mercy for these children?

The way in which compassion is used here makes it seem like only children who come from traditional families with idyllic home environments that create zones for optimal growth in the church should be considered for baptism. If children have to face any conflict between their home life and the church, they should be excluded from baptism until they are adults to make sure no unnecessary injury is done to them in their very tender years. Wouldn't it be great if that could be the case?

Who cares if the same-sex parents are loving and completely supportive and caring, and everything about them, except for the way they have sex with one another, could be conducive to coming close to Christ? We've singled them out. We're saying those loving parents aren't doing it right - that their children will carry a burden far greater than those who are living with abusive parents.

Newsflash: There aren't perfect conditions. Part of navigating conflict is what can lead to immense growth. If the biggest sin of any particular set of same-sex parents is that they have sex with the person they love, then they are WAY ahead of me.

A few random thoughts:
An expectation is not a guarantee. Christofferson said that when a baby is blessed, it triggers a whole host of things, including the expectation that children will be in primary and other church organizations, and that likely isn't appropriate in a home with same-sex parents. There is no guarantee that any baby who is blessed will make it through to primary and other church organizations. Should we hold off on giving all children blessings until they've proven that they (and their parents) can meet that expectation? And...if the church says that children of gay parents, and the gay parents themselves, are still welcome to come to services and activities, yet Christofferson implies that coming to primary and church activities would be the catalyst for the conflict the child feels when they see that what the church says doesn't match their family life, what are we really saying?

I know many members of the LDS Church who support same-sex marriage, myself included. Fairness would be asking all of us to "disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage" for us to be able to continue on with our callings and work in the church, not just the children of same-sex parents.

Thoughts on the Most Recent Policy Update from the Mormon Church

To those of you who have separated themselves from the church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here. Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result [...] Your background or upbringing might seem different from what you perceive in many Latter-day Saints, but that could be a blessing. Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this church. -Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2013
Yesterday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released updated policies to help clarify points for local church leaders. The updates having to do with homosexuality are as follows:

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing. 

A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows: A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met: 

1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage. 

2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.

Serious Transgression (addendum in italics)

. . . It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, forcible rape, sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations (especially sexual cohabitation), deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, . . .

When a Disciplinary Council is Mandatory (addendum in italics)


As used here, apostasy refers to members who: 

1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders. 

2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority. 

3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority. 

4. Are in a same-gender marriage. 

5. Formally join another church and advocate its teachings.

From what I've seen on multiple news outlets, blog posts, and comment forums, people have been most concerned with the fact that children are seemingly being punished for the sins of their parents by not being allowed to be baptized in the church until they are at least 18. Many people have said that the church taking this stance is actually merciful for the children - it will save them hurt and anguish and the confusion that comes from belonging to a church that has different teachings from what they are learning in their homes. This stance, I feel, assumes the perspective that homosexual parents who are "cohabiting" are living in sin. The latter part is not my perspective. 

There are two parts of the policy update that especially startle me - that have left me feeling sick since I heard the news. 

1. The first is in regard to children of gay parents who might attend LDS services. While the church maintains that all are welcome, even gay people, and the children of gay people can attend services and activities, I feel that would do far more damage than good. It feels like speaking out of both sides of one's mouth. Essentially, the church is saying that those children and their families are less than. "Here, come do everything with us, but because of your family, your parents in particular, you cannot join with us. You are different from us. Your family is not the kind of family we welcome here." I personally know what it feels like to feel less than in the church. I was raised by a single mother who didn't attend church for most of my childhood. [This isn't a knock to her - she has made her peace with and is now a faithful member of the church.] I can't tell you how many times I was asked where my father was, and told that kids should have moms and dads. It did something to me. My mom married when I was twelve, and somehow it magically made me feel like we were a real family in the eyes of the church. But I wish I would have had the perspective to feel like we were a real, whole, complete family just the way we were. Every kid deserves that. And every parent deserves that kind of support. Every family, regardless of what they look like, deserves that kind of support. Always. No matter what. 

Dear Parents and Children and Families who don't fit the mold of a traditional family: You are important and valuable and loved. I love you. Knowing you weren't fully welcome in the LDS church is part of why I'm taking a break. You and your good efforts deserve more than that. You and your love and care for one another deserve more than that. 

2. In order for children of gay parents to be baptized, serve missions,  and/or be ordained, they must disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage, and not be living with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage. 

This is where my heart hurts for children and parents who are already LDS. There are gay parents who are supportive of their LDS children's involvement in the church. Just today I read about an LDS father who came out 5 years ago. His daughter is preparing to be married in the temple in a couple of months, and his son is almost 18 and hoping to serve a mission soon. Both of his children either live or have lived with him since he came out. He loves and supports his children. I can't imagine the heartbreak it would cause this family, both for the father to be disavowed, and for the children to face the choice of disavowing the parent they love or living faithfully in the church they've been committed to. There are children of parents who have divorced but share equal custody of their children - one parent living in a heterosexual marriage, the other in a homosexual marriage. What about those kids? I know that disavow doesn't mean stop loving, but it does put a condition on loving completely. Children shouldn't have to say that their parents' love for one another is less than because both are of the same gender.

I could go on and on, like how ridiculous it feels that a child of gay parents cannot receive a name and a blessing in the church - a tradition in the LDS faith that essentially puts the child on the records of the church, even though they are not officially members until they are baptized. Why? 

This policy update put me on anxiety overload. I went to bed with a racing heart, and I woke up with one. I cried all the way through my meditation this morning, and lifted myself into a yoga pose I'd never done before with all of the extra energy running through my body. This policy update, and the anxiety associated with it, reminded me why I'm taking a break. I get so bogged down and spend so much energy trying to combat the heaviness of some of the stances the church takes that I don't have enough energy to pour into love. Loving others, loving myself, loving the church. 

One of my co-workers is also Mormon. We recognized this in one another within the first few days. As we were talking about it, another co-worker said, "You two are both Mormon?!" She said, "Yes," and I, still trying to find a way to comfortably describe my current relationship with the church, said, "Yes, but I'm taking a break." A few more conversation points went back and forth in our little group, and my Mormon co-worker said, "I love the church." Those words dealt me some weird little blow that was coupled with an instant revelation. You see, I, too, love the church. Deeply. But I know love and hate run on close, parallel tracks. And I could feel my love being overshadowed by anger, hurt, frustration, exhaustion, and despair. I didn't want my love to turn into hate and bitterness. The church, this faith tradition of my family, means too much to me. But there is great sorrow at the way its policies repeatedly forget to love everyone - forget to reflect the words of love we share. I wish Dieter's words were true in every sense. I wish that there was yet a place for all in the church. 

(This photo was taken last year on my pilgrimage to Salt Lake City, UT. I felt the weight of my temple recommend's expiration date, and, knowing that I would likely not renew it, I felt a sense of urgency to go to the SLC temple, one I hadn't been through before, while I still had a slip of paper that said I was worthy. I went to an endowment session with my cousin Kiersty. I will never forget that trip for the company, the surroundings, and the mounting courage I felt that would eventually help me do a really hard thing.)

Dia de Los Muertos

I've spent hours looking through old photos today. Reading obituaries, searching for people via the Internet and social media sites. I rarely talk about this, but it's something that's been important to me for as long as I can remember. I met my biological father when I was 14, and he remains the only person on his side of the family that I've met. Because I grew up close to my mom's side of the family, I never felt like I was going without familial relationships, but I also really wanted to know about this whole other half of me. A lineage that I belong to. A cloth from which I'm cut. 

10 years ago, my biological father sent me about 20 photos, along with stories about several ancestors. I treasure them. And today I've reveled in them.

My great-uncle, Jimmy Lige Lewis, on the family ranch in Texas.

My great-great grandfather, Sanford Joe Pearson, holding Jimmy Lige.

My great-great grandfather, Eligah Roy "Lige" Lewis holding his grandson, Jimmy Lige Lewis

My grandmother and her siblings.
L-R: Kathrine Jo Lewis (g-ma), Roy Elmo "Lucky" Lewis, Jr., Jimmy Lige Lewis, Margaret Ann Lewis

Another photo of the Lewis siblings.

My great-grandparents on the right. Margaret Louise Pearson and Roy Elmo Lewis.

Great-grandmother, Margaret Louise Pearson, aka Margie Lou.

Great-great grandparents in front seat. Minnie Ola Brown and Sanford Joe Pearson

Great-grandfather, Roy Elmo Lewis

A bunch of people I'm related to who I've never met. :) My great-grandmother is standing front and center. The first time I saw this, my heart skipped a beat; she's short like me! My father is in the back row on the far right, with his wife, Debra standing in front of him.


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