Love: That Gift That Snuck Up On Me

As a youngster, I can remember wondering what this “love” thing was that was always talked about it church.  Quite frankly, it was weird.  To be so enamored with a person that I could say that I loved them was a foreign concept to me.  It was just something you said; “I love you mom” being the mainstay.  As I grew older, my attitude evolved into categorizing people into acquaintances and enemies.  That’s it.

It wasn’t until I was past my mission and dating that I began to feel “love.”  I put it in quotes because it’s not the love that really does anyone any good.  At best, an acknowledgement that I liked you.

Then I got married to a wonderful lady whom I did love.  At least I had a strong attraction to.  Hindsight is always 20/20 so what I saw as “love” was something else that was a complicated set of emotions and analysis that, in my mind, I equated as love (lust being a large part of it).  I know, that last sentence made no sense, but neither did my thinking process.

Then my excommunication and the start of my own self-analysis which had to include how I felt about other people.  One thing became clear; I had very little empathy towards others.  I actually had to practice having empathy by forcing myself to mentally turn and look at what I did/doing/said/saying from the other persons point of view.  It was the same as seeing the world in an abstract way, that is to consider the characteristic of what I was saying or doing, separate from me.  This was an exercise I consistently worked on for years.  I had to go about acquiring empathy as a skill, the same as someone would practice the piano.

I could see where it would get frustrating for some people who would try to converse with me as I paused all the time to make sure I didn’t say or do anything that would be offensive or obnoxious, which I horribly failed at.  However, with time I started getting better at it until it became almost second nature.  But it still didn’t mean I knew what to think or what to say.  I had the first piece, which is to look at myself from another person’s point of view.  What I was now missing was the other piece, to know how to talk to someone so I wouldn’t be forward and brash as to shut down or scare the bejeebers out of them.  I even corrected a Stake President after a fireside because he got something wrong (looking back, it wasn’t so wrong after all).

And then I began to attend the church’s ARP meeting.  I thought I was doing ok, but I was still a very angry person so I was not above (or below) correcting anyone, from fellow participants to the group leaders.  But the group leader was extremely patient with me.  He had figured me out and tried to gently guide me along to being a less judgmental participant.  I tried but then came that one night that I ripped someone apart right there in group.  I felt justified, that was until I was pulled into another room where this group leader very gently but sharply chastised me.  I have never, nor do I believe I will ever be ripped a new one in such a nice, loving, caring way.  But after the chastisement, he taught me the second piece; how to talk to people.  With that in place, I started to practice.  The first step was to apologize to the person I ripped apart.

I could feel myself getting better at communicating with the folks in my group.  I was also getting better at considering their feelings.  I should point out that at the end of each group meeting, I sat down with the group leader and asked him what I did wrong and how to improve.  What this forced me to do is change my attitude so that I could not be offended, accept his critiques and do my best to follow his instructions.  With his help, I was getting much, much better to where others were actually listening to me and even asking me questions.

A couple of years later, I accepted an assignment to be a facilitator.  Part of my responsibilities is to minister to the new people who’ve come into the group.  This, at times, can be very delicate.  I had to above all, be accepting and non-threatening, a feat I’m still trying to master.  But there was one meeting where it hit me.  In that meeting, I looked out at all these men who were there trying to overcome an addiction that had overwhelmed them and I felt an overwhelming feeling of love for each and every one of them.  I don’t know if anyone saw me, but when that feeling hit me, I had to sit back and gather my thoughts.  My mind took me back to when I started and how mean and angry I was and returned to that moment when all I had was a feeling of love and compassion.  This was a wonderful, startling spiritual moment for me.  And thus years of preparation brought me to be open enough where I was given, what I consider, a surprise gift.

I believe that for the most part, children come to this earth with the traits that they had in the pre-existence.  That it is life’s experiences that changes and molds them to the adults they are.  But we are commanded to overcome the worlds influence and get back to the loving, kind people that we were before our earthly sojourn.  This is only done by faith and obedience.  What I believed happened to me is that at that moment, in that meeting, I was given back my gift of love and compassion; a gift that would not have been returned until I went through the crucible of working for it.  I unknowingly did as Paul admonished which is to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor 12:31).  The “best gift” I needed was the gift of love and compassion.  And I finally have that cherished gift.

So if you are a person on your journey to better yourself, be patient.  More specifically, be patient with yourself and with God.  It takes work and honest self-analysis.  But we are promised that we will receive that which we desire so long as it is righteous.  Life is not checking off a list so that we can turn in our resume in the end.  Life is about acquiring the attitude of constantly striving to be obedient all the while repenting along the way as well as seeking after all that is good.  Whether it is knowledge, gifts, or even a good disposition, it is all within our reach.   Not because if I can do it you can to, but because this is the promise of God to his children.  And I am excited to have discovered it.

Good Gosh, I’m Famous?? Maybe??

So I sent an email to Ritchie at The Cultural Hall podcasts (only the best podcast about Mormon culture) and hey, he read it to everyone!  COOL!  So if you’re here form a search or the podcast, WELCOME and please feel free to send over advice/ideas/critique to

Thus far:- I need to find my focus
– Have someone read my posts because there are some sentences that may not make sense.

I know I don’t have that many posts as of yet, but I’ve been reading through what I’ve posted and seeing where I can fine tune what I want to get across.  As for focus, I believe I should lean more towards posting what I learned and my feelings on the subject of coming back into the fold rather than teaching a lesson (such as my musings on Step 3).

In any case, let me know:

It would be appreciated.

My Excommunication & Spiritual Resuscitation

This being my blog about what I’m learning while on the path back into the fold, I thought I should drop a line about my excommunication, which happened on March of 2004.  Now I’ve ready in many places where folk who have been ex’d called the disciplinary hearing a “spiritual experience.”  Sorry, for the most part that’s not what it was for me.  Rather, it was terribly embarrassing, filled with shame and guilt.  With the understanding that I broke all my temple covenants, and since I was an endowed priesthood holder (Elder) who was recently released as a counselor in the Elders Quorum presidency, I pretty much knew that this was the end of the line.  I still find it a fascinating experience that I would never want to live through again.

To begin with, I had a Stake President who was compassionate, but really didn’t understand me.  I sinned many great sins, but at that time I was pretty disconnected so there was not a whole lot of affect going on with me.  This, I believe, make it difficult for him to read me.  Besides, I was really good at masking my feelings.  So while I did council with him and I did get a lot of good “stuff,” it was difficult to click with him.  But I blame me more for that than him.

As for the Council, it was the worst.  To begin with, ¾ of the high council were attorneys of one sort or another.  And yes, they questioned me as such.  And the stuff I had to admit to were quite grievous.  I know using the work “had” may be an interesting term since I didn’t have to do a thing.  And this is where this phrase comes in:

“I need to do what I need to do and I need to let the church do what it needs to do.”

This was what was ringing in my head for the months leading up to the disciplinary hearing.  Mainly because I was seriously considering withdrawing my name from the church before the hearing took place.  But as immediately as I came up with that thought the above phrase came rushing into my head.  So I stayed and allowed the church to excommunicate me; the church did what it needed to do.  And I still feel that was the right thing to do because I truly believe that if I withdrew my name, it would be four times as hard to come back and I would not have had the support I now enjoy from my new found friends in the church.

But of all the embarrassing answers to the embarrassing questions I had to endure, the one sentence that still haunts me to this day was said when the decision was announced; “The Spirit is grieved.”  I have yet to have a sentence dump as much guilt, shame and judgment on me as that sentence did.  I can still remember wanting to disappear under the table when I heard that.  But, truth is truth and that was definitely true.  I left the Stake Center totally disheartened and spiritually disemboweled.

When I got home, for whatever it was going to be good for, I decided to say a prayer.  In my prayer I apologized to God and pretty much began to say “since I’m no longer LDS…”  That there is the first spiritual experience I had after excommunication.  At the risk of throwing out the sacred, I had a definite and unmistakable shot to my spiritual system.  There were no lights, no angels, no biblical-worthy pronouncements, but a definite “you are STILL LDS” pronouncement.  That pronouncement meaning that I’m still expected to behave as though I am still LDS.  Those who have had the still small voice yell at them will understand this because He was more than just sweetly letting me know, he was beating me with a 2×4 to get it into my thick skull.

But I still had a lot of pride and decades of bad behavior to excise out of my system.  It also still took many years before I developed enough courage to go to church and know that everyone there pretty much knew what I had done.  And they did know.  There was at least one, if not more who went up to the Bishop to tell him he (they) didn’t want me there.  Well, I was still obnoxious and uncaring to really give a whoop.  But I stayed for only sacrament for a couple of years.  It took a new Bishop and his invitation for me to stay for Sunday school and priesthood before I started to stay for the rest of the block.

As a side note, I want to mention what I noticed had become my gauge as to how much progress I was making, and that was what I was wearing.  I started off with Levi’s, tennis shoes and a work shirt.  I then added a tie; I then bought some Dickie’s pants and then added black shoes.   All this evolved over six years.  It wasn’t until my Stake President mentioned it to me when I realized why I had upgraded my wardrobe; “I felt I needed to dress the part.”  Today, I still wear Dickies black pants, all black tennis shoes with a dress shirt and tie, but that’s because of my calling and me running around the Stake taking care of computers.

Oh wait, I’m ex’d and have a calling?  Make that one stake calling, one ward calling and an assignment with Family Services (ARP facilitator).  I still joke that the stake has run out of members so they’re getting the ex’d guy to do some jobs, but in reality, it is a huge blessing and training ground as well as confidence booster.  I should mention that my first calling came not more than a few years ago, when I was well on my way back, and shown that I’ve committed to the process for rebaptism.  But what these callings did was to force me to keep stepping up, continue to breakout of my isolation and interact more with members of my stake, a majority of which are interaction with people in various leadership positions.  It also put me out there to be seen.  Now it seems the whole stake knows that “guy who fixes the computers and helps with the audio/video.”  It has also tutored me as how things are done in the church.  It’s not a corporation but it is still methodical with the underlying premise being how it is helping the individual.  Big lesson for me.

Getting back on track, it’s now been a bit over eight years since being ex’d and in looking back, I can see where the arm of God had been there to guide me back to the fold.  Not that I was coerced, but because when I decided I wanted back in for good I started taking the steps necessary no matter how much it hurt.  Because of that, I believe the Lord gave me blessings each step of the way.  Quite frankly, looking back to who I was, it’s a miracle I’ve made it this far.

God is good.  The promise given that if we give our will over to Him, the more freedom we attain I can witness is a fact.  It’s not a matter of “if I can do it, you can do it to” but a matter of I am a witness that it can be done and I invite all who have been excommunicated to take the steps necessary, jettison the pride and get on the path to rebaptism.  I’ve not made it to the water yet, but I’ve learned and progressed so much that even if I don’t, I’m a much better and happier person for it.

On Hope and What “Seemeth” Good

A few weeks ago in Elders Quorum, one of the EQ Presidency gave a short lesson on Section 39 and 40.

<pause while you go look it up if you so desire>

So, what do these sections have to do with hope and who is this James Covel anyway?  Go ahead and do a search, as it was presented that Sunday, it almost always comes up with “cares of the world” as the title or lesson.  However, I took something else from it.

James Covel, an interesting fellow who gave into the spirit at first, but then backed down.  He was a leader of the Methodist reformed movement at the time.   Keep in mind, he’s from Connecticut and settled in New York after he married.  He heard the church’s message and was impressed.  However, at this time, the church was beginning its move west, from New York to Ohio.  So in a revelation, the Lord instructs Covel to not go east, but to the west, to Ohio to serve a mission.  What’s a man to do?  Well, remember he was a leader in the Methodist sect with all his friends and acquaintances in the east.  Besides, my own conjecture is that there was plenty of heat from his Methodist friends for him even meeting with the Mormonism.  So, he rejected the call, left for home and his former position as the saints moved further and further west. (For more info, visit the Revelation in Context section of website).

Ok, so where do I see hope in all this?  Let’s look at the scriptures in D&C 39:

7 And now, behold, I say unto you, my servant James, I have looked upon thy works and I know thee.
8 And verily I say unto thee, thine heart is now right before me at this time; and, behold, I have bestowed great blessings upon thy head;
9 Nevertheless, thou hast seen great sorrow, for thou hast rejected me many times because of pride and the cares of the world.

How many of us are not guilty of this?  I certainly am.  I would almost say that this was one aspect of my downfall and may be one aspect that I need to overcome to continue to progress.  I know that with my current callings, I’ve learned to be less harried in the gospel.  What I mean is I’ve learned that it’s a journey and not a spike.  There will be ups and downs, but I need to calmly keep plowing through them.  As I’ve done this, I’ve found peace of mind and conscience.

The next section, D&C 40:

 1 Behold, verily I say unto you, that the heart of my servant James Covel was right before me, for he covenanted with me that he would obey my word.
2 And he received the word with gladness, but straightway Satan tempted him; and the fear of persecution and the cares of the world caused him to reject the word.
3 Wherefore he broke my covenant, and it remaineth with me to do with him as seemeth me good. Amen.

This is where my present condition comes in.  I broke all kinds of covenants that lead up to my excommunication.  But I always wondered why is it that there is such a buffering from Satan after membership is taken away?  Well, it seems that it’s what the Lord decided what was good to be done to me.  I believe it’s because one big factor leading up to excommunications is pride and rebelliousness.  Before I could progress enough to be rebaptised, I had to jettison both these negative traits.  But, because God is a God of laws, I had to deal with the consequences first.  And that is a type of spiritual separation, not to teach me a lesson, but because I was unworthy of having it.  Thus, the darkness.

More scripture, back to D&C 39:

 10 But, behold, the days of thy deliverance are come, if thou wilt hearken to my voice, which saith unto thee: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on my name, and you shall receive my Spirit, and a blessing so great as you never have known.

So it came that I had a decision to make; keep going down my well known path to my destruction by continuing on with what I knew, or risk the unknown and reach out to a God I couldn’t see, but was told that “this is the only way to redemption.”  Well, I had faith enough to believe this.  I like the promise of “blessing so great as you never have known.”  Who wouldn’t.  But I’ve received many, many blessings and miracles that still do boggle me to this day.  How much more is there once I’m rebaptised?  It’s incredible for me to think that the being who created the universe, God himself, that it was his will to do and give me what he did.

But I still had a hard time with the thought of not knowing what was around the bend. It was bad enough that I took the risk but for a long time, I was perplexed because I couldn’t see what was ahead.  I knew I had to let go and trust that God had a plan for me and that he was in control so long as I stayed obedient.  But I felt I needed the comfort of foresight.  That’s when the last verse in Section 40 really struck me:

 3 Wherefore he broke my covenant, and it remaineth with me to do with him as seemeth me good. Amen.

What hit me was the path I am on, I agreed to allow God to do with me as he saw fit.  That if I truly wanted to come back into the fold, I needed to let God make it so, at his timing.  And, even more important, combined this last verse with Section 39: 10, it finally got through to me; Even if I were to be shown the future, I wouldn’t believe it anyway.

So I need to keep going in faith because so long as I strive to be as obedient as I can, God will give me a future that would be beyond my current understanding.  It’s that way now, it’s going to be even more so down the line.  To me, this is hope.

Musing on Step 3: Part 3

My apologies for taking a couple of days more than I said to post this.  Between Easter, church cleanup and helping out a friend, this past weekend was pretty packed.  But here it is…

This is where I’m going to get a bit personal.  For me, Step 3 was a struggle of trying to decipher what in the world Step 3 required to get past it.  I tend to look at things in a linear and compartmentalized fashion.  But what I’m really guilty of is over-analyzing every situation.  So it comes as no surprise that this not only took a while to get past, but I learned many lessons from the struggle to understand.

The first lesson I learned is that the gospel and qualifying for salvationurl is simple, and here is the big secret:

Read and study the scriptures daily, pray at least twice a day if not always, attend and be active in church.

Those of us who have been members since childhood will remember this pat answer-to-all-questions saying.  But for me, that was way too simple.  So much so, I ended up in my Bishops office as well as my Stake President’s office asking the same question; “There has to be more to it than that, is it really that simple?”  Both looked straight into my eyes and both said the same thing; “yes, it is that simple.”  HOLY COW!  But that wasn’t enough.  I had to go months more before I believed.  I worked in my head all kinds of scenarios, rules, commandments but as far as action, it all boiled down to just this; read, pray, church.  And this is why it was such a problem for me; I wanted my faith proven before I acted.  I wanted the sure thing before I jumped it.  In reality, that’s not how it works.

In all the scriptures, there is one theme that connects all the characters; they had to act on their belief before they were rewarded with the blessing.  They had to exercise a certain amount of faith before they received the miracle.  And so it was with me.

Once I began to read the scriptures daily, pray morning and night and attend church regularly, I found my resolve to be sober strengthened and my strength to stay sober increased to a point where I was either going to take the next step, or give up.  And that was to turn to God and ask him not to help me, but to take from me these desires and compulsions.  And you know what, He did.  But with one caveat: I need to continue to read/pray/church or, in other words, continue to act on my faith or I would fall back into old habits (of which I did many times).

And that falls right into the other thing I learned, that to turn the care of my life over to God, I but needed to do one thing:

Be Obedient.

That’s it.  No more complicated than that.

In all the 12-step groups I’ve been to, the third step is always a matter of controversy and consternation.  There seems to be a reluctance to understand that it is this simple and I attribute this to one thing; the addict’s lack of wanting to relinquish control.  It’s scary and disconcerting to give your care to someone you cannot see.  But that presents a question, “so me controlling my life, how has that been going thus far?”  At the time, not so hot.  So I took the plunge and worked towards that goal of giving the care of my life over to God.  In reality, it was a multi-year long process.  But when I finally understood and went to God with the right request, the result was miraculous.

I can honestly say that so long as I to the simple read/pray/church, I do not have a desire to act on my addictions. Furthermore, even though I don’t have much because I lost a whole lot, I am happy.

I will end this foray into Step 3 with this lesson I learned:

The Atonement is real.

As I worked Step 3, the utter change in my attitude and the huge change in my being just cannot be done alone, here, as a mere mortal human being.  There are evil thoughts and ideas that have disappeared, habits that have changes and rebelliousness that are no longer.  All this cannot be explained by going to one too many sessions with my shrink but only by the miraculous power of God to take all this away from me.  What I’ve seen of others and my own experience holds this to be true to me.  And why not?  Christ spoke of how easy His burden (commandments) is and how He stands ready to take from us the pains of life:

quote-image-the-atonement-of-jesus-christMatthew 11:28-30 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.

When I talk about the simplicity of Gods commandments, well, compared to the torturous life of addiction and sin, the life of living God’s commandments is much preferred, if not desired.  The following scripture is one that had really touched me during a time of questioning why I was going through what I was going through:

D&C 101:1-9 Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance – I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions; Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels. 

Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.  For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.  Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.  They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.  In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. 

Verily I say unto you, notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them. I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath I will remember mercy.

I found it interesting that The Lord compared the chastisement of the prophet Abraham to what the early pioneers experienced.  It leads me to believe that we all, righteous or not, experience the same chastisement or “testing with a lesson” so to speak.  Understanding this made all the prophets of the scriptures and today much more accessible and human to me.  They most likely did not have to deal with addictions, but what they had to deal with was and is just as perilous to them as it is to me.  It’s not only how we deal with them that matters, but to whom we turn to for the strength to not only get through it, but to whom we turn to with the faith of who can lift it from us.

But I hasten to add that my experience has taught me that faith and submitting myself to God means trusting God and accepting his judgment of what we are in need of.  I know that I, like so many others, will never have my addictions taken away from me.  But I also know that if I continue to do my best to strive to learn and keep the commandments from God, my addiction will not rule over me.  Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians says it best:

2 Cor 12:7-9 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

It is the same with me, you, and everyone else.  That the Adversary will be there to buffet us, but in this, we remember God and Christ and it is with working out weakness that we come to the glory of God.