Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Mormon Perspective: The Power of Ten Minutes

I originally shared this story, which is true, as a comment in response to a post about how to Mourn With Those That Mourn.  Someone commented that some things should not be shared in public, especially when there are private details that may embarrass someone in the audience.  She used the specific example of a woman who thanked the ward for their support as she was in rehab for a cocaine addiction.  The commenter felt that it was inappropriate for her to be that detailed in her thanks, over the pulpit in sacrament meeting.

Hiding your head and eyes won't make the problems go away!

I do think there are things that shouldn't be shared in sacrament meetings. My biological father would come to our ward, after my parents' divorce (and he no longer lived in that ward) and share intimate details of their marriage and divorce.  I have been in a meeting in which someone made degrading comments about Muslims that were very racist, and then tried to get everyone in the congregation to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance with him.  Instead, a member of the bishopric escorted him out of the chapel.  I have been in a meeting in which someone started to share an appallingly brutal opinion of what should be done to all homosexuals during the 2008 campaign, when many members were actively supporting Prop 8 in California. I was grateful that the bishop stood up and asked her to sit down, and then bore his testimony that Heavenly Father loves all His children, and the physical violence is not justifiable under any circumstances, and he referenced the woman taken in adultery who Christ was merciful to.  (I probably would have gone a step farther, but it was a strange time to be a liberal Mormon, even in Oregon.)  So, I do believe that there are times when things shouldn't be said as part of Fast and Testimony meeting.

I do not think that every testimony has to be without specifics of a person's struggles.  If we can't share those things we struggle with, and how Heavenly Father has helped us to overcome those challenges, we deprive others of a chance to see that they are not alone, that there are others who struggle too, and that there is hope.  In my opinion, a "good" testimony is one that brings the Holy Ghost to confirm the testimony in the hearts of those who hear it, who testify of Christ and the power of the Atonement, and that brings Hope to those that hear it.  I want to share one such experience that I had, and which I shared in response to the women who thought that share a struggle with drug addiction was not appropriate.


In the middle of a horrendously tumultuous time in my life, I went to stay with a nonmember friend in Colorado for a week. The peace of her home was a balm my soul needed, and by Sunday I was grateful to be able to fast, and to have found a meetinghouse 20 minutes away where I could go to sacrament meeting.

I had intended to go to the 9:00 am service, but we all got up late, so instead I ended up at the 11:00 am one. About halfway through the meeting I had a clear impression that I needed to bear my testimony of the Atonement. Since I didn't know anyone, I ignored it, and continued listening. About 15 minutes before the time for sharing testimonies would have been done, the stand was empty. After five minutes, I knew that no one was going to get up until I did. So, I went to the front and shared my testimony of the healing of the Atonement. I did not have to go into great detail about being raped or molested, and I only briefly explained that part of my struggles came from the misunderstanding of my bishop that led to me being put on church probation when I was raped. My testimony focused on how the Spirit can bring comfort, how the Atonement heals wounds that no man could, and that complete forgiveness is a lifelong quest, not a short term goal.

All of the details don't matter, but a woman, who is now my friend, was sitting in the back of he chapel that day. She, and the entire ward council, were fasting for her to be able to find a way to heal. After fifteen years of struggling with an assault by another church member, she was asking her leaders for support in leaving the church. She had decided that the fifteenth anniversary of her rape was the right day to mail her letter of resignation. She was there on that Sunday at the request of her bishop, who had told her that the entire ward council was praying for her to find a way to feel the love of The Lord.

If I had been too embarrassed to talk about my history of being abused, had wanted to keep people comfortable by leaving the details of my spiritual journey out, so that no one needed to feel uncomfortable with the details, my friend would not be a member of the church. I honestly believe that she would have killed herself by now. If I had worried that I was talking to long, taking up the rest if another ward's fast and testimony meeting, I might have missed the chance to pass on some of the healing that Christ has graciously given me. If I had worried that my testimony was inappropriate for children, I would have stayed in my seat. I certainly do not share these details every time I share my testimony, but if I feel prompted to, I do. 


I didn't know the full story, or impact, of that 10 minutes for quite a while. My friend talked to me a little after the meeting, mostly asking a lot if questions about my personal journey. At the time I really didn't have a clue why I had at least ten women standing or sitting next to me, or why so many of them were crying. At the time I was worried that I was keeping so many people from Sunday school. When the bishop came and found me, and asked me if I could meet with him briefly, I really wasn't sure what to expect. It was not bear hugs from him, both of his councilors and two stake high councilors. I got a very brief run down, basically that they had a sister in their ward who had been raped, and that some ward members had been fasting for her. I gave them my contact information and permission to share it with the sister I had been talking to, and any ward member who might have questions.

Several months later I got my first email from my friend, and since then she has shared quite a bit of the back story, from her perspective. Almost six months after my trip to Colorado, the wife if the bishop (who had since been released) called me to ask if I would be willing to answer some questions. She was going to be leading a fifth Sunday discussion on the Atonement. My friend's story was well known, and my testimony seems to have almost become folklore in that stake. She asked me to share my back story, how I happened to be in their ward, and why I had shared that testimony. I am not positive about why the ward taped the conversation of that fifth Sunday meeting, but I treasure my copy of it. 

We can't Mourn With Those That Mourn, if we aren't holding on to them!

I hope that this doesn't sound self aggrandizing. The Lord is the one who know what was needed. I fought the prompting, and did not expect it to have an impact on anyone but me. The glory belongs to God. I am humbled that he would choose someone as imperfect as me to help someone else. My point in sharing it, is to hopefully help those who have no experiences with these issues, to see that wonderful things can happen if you step out of your comfort zone enough to acknowledge and talk about issues that are usually keep hidden.

4 comments:

  1. Miracles happen in so many unexpected ways. I think one of the more difficult commandments is to mourn with those that mourn. Thank you for this post.

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  2. Thanks for a beautifully inspiring post. We have to stand by each other, always.

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  3. Several former members have emailed me asking why I thought it was a good thing that this friend stayed a member of the church. Several have even suggested that I did her a disservice by being part of the reason she stayed a member.

    I realize that for many who have left the church, any reason to leave is a good reason. For me, that isn't true. I don't judge my friends who are not members or who are former members for their choices. There are lots of reasons why people choose to leave all kinds of organizations. If the reason you are leaving is because that organization no longer fits your goals, beliefs or you can't reconcile a part that you feel is hurting you, then being true to yourself is important, and leaving may be the only way to do that.

    That is not what was happening in this case. This sister had been hurt by one individual, (who did not have ecclesiastical authority and was prosecuted and convicted of his crime) and who couldn't let go of the trauma to start healing. The miracle in this story for me, and for her, was that talking openly about how broken I was, and that I had started to find healing through the Atonement, allowed her to have an avenue for hope. That hope is what allowed her to believe she too could start healing, that she didn't have to be emotionally stuck in the role of a victim.

    I believe that miracles happen everyday, just not to everyone at a time. Some miracles are deeply personal, but even those come with an obligation to share them when inspired.

    There was a great post talking about understanding the condescension of God this week on BCC, and I am planning to write more about this, incorporating some of the thoughts from that post, and parts of some emails that were responses to this post.

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  4. This post has generated a LOT of emails. I am fine with you emailing thoughts instead of posting them, but it really is okay to leave comments. I will address several themes that seem to be coming up a lot, but not until late next week after we are settled in the apartment and the medical procedures on Monday and Tuesday are done. Don't think I am ignoring you, I just can't do everything all at once!

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