Lovely and of Good Report

I am so proud of my kids!

We went to the movies tonight because we had passes and wanted to see BFG after finishing the book.

But that movie was already gone!

No one even threw a baby fit as we had to change movies, which is a big deal for the kids in our family.

Instead of being upset, they were able to focus on the good and get excited about a 3D movie instead.

Then, when we got ready to go in to our auditorium, they said it was broken!

We could only go to the regular movie instead.

Sigh.

Again, the kids were amazing, being grateful to be at the movies instead of complaining about another change of plans.

We got in to our seats on the third try, glad for a fun family night out after so many hard weeks.

The opposition, which I will write about later, has been as intense as the book release has been wonderful.  We have endured so much additional hardship and challenges and difficulties since announcing the book! We know it is because we are sharing our testimony.

Anyway, a family night out is a rare treat for us and we are exhausted, and it was a relief to get everyone seated for a fun movie date.

Except then the movie started, and it was terrible.  What was supposed to be a children’s movie was full of inappropriate sexual references, bullying, lying, and a whole lot of violence. It was really bad.

And our kids realized it!

They knew that just because it was cute, didn’t mean there was light.

They knew that just because it was funny, didn’t mean it was good.

And so we left, and they asked for their money back.

Because, they said, the prophet told us to just leave if the movie isn’t nice or good.”

Because, they said, we want to only look for “whatever is lovely and of good report”.

And so tonight, all eight of us left a movie that didn’t feel good to us, that didn’t feel like light, that didn’t feel like it was of God.

Even if it was marketed to kids, and supposed to be funny, and designed to be cute.

We were proud of them, and took them out for ice cream at McDonald’s instead.

Except the ice cream machine was broken.

Because that’s the kind of day we have had.

But it didn’t phase us.

We decided we could just play on the indoor playground, anyway.

Except it was closed for cleaning.

So instead, we sat and at chocolate chip cookies.

Because there are always chocolate chip cookies, even on the worst days.

Except Nathan and I can’t have them, but we didn’t care by that point.

The kids, though? They were brave and good and patient today, and we are proud of them.  

#LDSConf – Alma 42

CLICK HERE to read Alma 42.

This chapter concludes Alma, Jr.’s speech to his son Corianton.

He opens by addressing Corianton’s concerns that a good God would not punish people, because that’s unfair.  Corianton has told his father that he supposes “that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery” (verse 1).  To explain, Alma goes all the way back to the garden of Eden (verse 2).  He explains that for us to truly have the ability to choose to love God or not, we must have choice.  Without choice, we cannot choose.  So we are sent to Earth for a time of testing, given the ability to choose.  Our choices demonstrate, prove, show whether or not we love God, and how much.

But even in our failings, we are not condemned, because our Father knew we were only His children, not yet grown to “adulthood” as He is, and so He knew we could not do it perfectly.  Rather than this being a setup where we would surely fail, He did arrange from the beginning – a part of the plan, always, ahead of time, before any of us were even born – He did arrange for the Savior’s atonement to cover us, and He provided prophets (the flaming sword) throughout time on Earth to teach us that plan and point us to the atonement, for it is the only way (verses 2-3, 5).  But to apply that atonement, for it to be used for our own sake, we must claim it through repentance.   In this way, our lives are the time to learn how to make good choices, and to repent and claim the atonement when we do not.  “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (verse 4).

So we were all sent here, away from His presence, to be tested as to what choices we really would make.  Most kids are good when their parents are watching, when they can see them and know they are paying attention.   It’s usually when we know no one is looking that we are naughty.   So we were sent here, away from His presence, to be tested, for our “true colors” to show (verse 6).  On Earth, in our current mortal lives, we are cut off from the physical and spiritual presence of the Lord, and left to our own devices (verses 7-9).   However, He did not abandon us completely, as He has provided a way for us to be reunited with Him in the future (by the atonement of Christ), and a way for us to have His presence with us now (by the Holy Spirit).

But we have to be worthy of the presence of the Holy Spirit, for it is holy, and we have to do the work of claiming (submitting to) the atonement of Christ.   It is this process that cleanses us of what is not-of-God, so that we can be made more like our Father.   This process prepares us to return to His presence, making this lifetime only a “preparatory state”, a “probation” (verse 10).

Thus if it were not for the atonement of Christ (necessary also for the gift of the Holy Spirit), we would be entirely cut off from God (verse 11).  Further, this would be our own consequences for our disobedience, our poor use of the freedom to choose, and our failing to develop that skill well (verse 12).

So it is that God is not going to force us to love Him, because love is always a choice.  This is why it is not injustice to cast out those who do not choose to love Him.  If he forced people to stay with Him, it would not be a choice; if He forced people to love Him, it would not be love.  “God would cease to be God” (verse 13).

Each of us – all of us – must develop this ability to choose and choose to follow God.  Until we do, we are fallen, and still “in the grasp of justice”, which cuts us off from His presence (verse 14).  It is the atonement of Christ that paid the price of justice, so that God may show us mercy: “therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (verse 15).

So we have the choice to either claim mercy through repentance by the atonement, or to accept our consequences (verse 16).  Laws and commandments are given so that we might become more like our Father, through the atonement of Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit.   There is punishment, or consequences, because there is a law – choices – saying what is good and right, and what is not.  And having an option for what is not, means that we need a way provided for repentance or else we would be lost completely and forever (verses 17-19).  And without a way for repentance, there would be no way for mercy (verse 21).

But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God (verse 22).

But we are not left hopeless!  And God does not cease to be God!

… mercy claimeth the pentitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into His presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice (verse 23).

So the atonement meets the demands of justice, and so we find mercy.

But only those who claim the atonement can find mercy (verses 24-25).

This is how mercy was part of the plan all along, even though we were sent here to be tested according to the law.  “And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world (premortality!).  And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and mercy” (verse 26).  So we have the ability and freedom to choose to be redeemed with mercy, or to be left to our own consequences; no one is compelled (verse 27).

But we will get what we choose.  We will reap the harvest of what we have sown.  We will get the consequences we earned by what we do not, what we choose now, how we interact with each other today.

… in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.  If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God (verses 27-28).

So we should not be troubled by not understanding, or thinking we cannot know.  We do know, and it has been explained to us.  Instead, we should focus on our own sins, and let those trouble us, so that it may “bring you down unto repentance” (verse 29).  We should not excuse ourselves “in the least point” because of our sins, but claim the atonement in every way (verse 30), and “let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering, have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (verse 30).

He then calls Corianton to step up and return to his mission, to preach and teach to the people, “that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them” (verse 31).  This is mercy, even by example, inviting Corianton to repent and return to what he has been asked to do, rather than condemning him or giving up on him.   Not only this, but Alma sees that his son needs more time with him, that they need to serve together so that his son can gain experience and testimony and have the example and leadership of his father.  So the following chapters are about their mission together, with Alma and his sons.

#LDSConf – Alma 41

CLICK HERE to read Alma 41.

In this chapter, Alma is still talking with his son about the resurrection (verse 1).

He says something interesting: “it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works” (verse 2).  God cannot be holy if there is not also the opposite, that which is un-holy.  It is His being separate from that which is not holy that does make Him holy. Opposites are required.   Since He is the God of Holy, or the Man of Holiness (Moses 7:35, see 1 Nephi 15), then his kingdom is made up of only that which is holy.  This is the justice, that what is not-holy cannot enter.

What that means for us, is that we get what we choose.  The atonement of Christ meets the demands of justice, and so God, the Man of Holiness, is able to grant us mercy – to let us in, even though we do not deserve it.  But we must choose and apply the atonement, and the evidence of our doing so shows in our life through our choices.  Are we choosing holiness?  Or not?  If so, there should be evidence to prove it.  If our choices are good, then our actions will be good.  And if our actions are good, then it means our hearts are also good, and so we will be restored to what we have chosen: goodness (verse 3).

But if we choose evil, even now, then we would not be comfortable later in a holy place because we have not yet been transformed to be the people of holiness.  “Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame” (verse 4).   Those who desire happiness and work toward it now, will receive it; those who have “desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh” (verse 5).

But we are not perfect yet, of course.  So those who repent, and desire righteousness, they will be blessed with the righteousness they seek (verse 6).  “These are they that are redeemed of the Lord…” (verse 7).  This is how His plan works (verse 8), so, Alma tells his son, “do not risk one more offense against your God” (verse 9).

This was always the plan, and we are a part of it whether or not we agree.  Those who choose wickedness will reap those consequences; those who choose righteousness will be changed into the people of holiness.  But righteousness – the evidence of good choices – is required, is a pre-requisite, because that is what leads to holiness, which is what leads to happiness, while “wickedness never was happiness” (verse 10).

For now, without God, we are in a our natural state, bound to bitterness and iniquity (verse 11).  We will not be placed where we are not comfortable or be placed in opposition to my nature (verse 12).  Instead,  any restoration “is to bring back again” to the state in which it was before (verse 13).  This is the principle that teaches that we get “evil for evil and good for good” (verse 13).

Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren, deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things, then shall ye have your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again… for that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored”  (verses 14-15).

Pride, Oppression, and Kindness

This is our new crazy world, full of children and up to our ears in books.

We waited all day for the hardback copies that requested autographs, and they are still not here!  Maybe tomorrow.  We are dying with excitement, though the children were glad to have a day off from writing their names.

The older children went to TSHA’s Deaf camp today, and had an amazing time.  Such a blast!  They squealed with excitement to tell me all about it!  I was so thrilled for them, and so happy they had so much fun!

But then, unexpectedly, Mary pulled a fast one and threw herself into bullying the others because she was “real Deaf” and they are “only hearing”.  I put a quick stop to that, and actually even sent her to her bed.  Once I had the other children settled and busy, I went back to her and we talked for a very long time about what it means to be a bully, and what it means to have pride.  We talked about the difference between pride and oppression, and we talked about what it means to be black, and deaf, and mormon, and cochlear implant-ish.  We talked about all the reasons one group can hate another group, and how we are not going to be a family of hate or ugliness.

She felt terrible, of course, but it was an important lesson.  She will miss camp tomorrow, while we process some more and do some research about the pieces of her identity and culture that have endured so much hate and bullying, so that we can explore how to have the good kind of pride while still being humble and compassionate and safe for herself and for others.  There is much to learn, and I cannot imagine the intensity of those lessons for such a little one.

But her life matters.

And they are necessary lessons.

And so we discuss them as they come up, and we study them, and we explore them, and we learn together.

There is so much to learn, both of us.

But advocacy and bullying are not the same, and it’s a serious problem in our community, and it’s important for her to discern this now if she is going to grow up healthy and strong and whole and kind.

Meekness is strength under control, is advocacy with compassion, is a strong self-identity while still being kind to others.

That’s the real Mary, who is sweet as anything, and that’s who I want to remind her to be, even as we begin the battles of pre-adolescence.

She was angry at me, mostly because she got caught being mean, and shouted at me that she didn’t want to be in our family anymore, that she wanted to go back to her other family, and that she never did really like me.

She’s not the first foster child to scream that in my face while spitting.

I am sure it will not be the last time I hear those words that sting my heart.

Except she is adopted, and sealed, as if born to us in the covenant, so I did not respond or argue with her, or fight with her… they all want so badly to fight because of the domestic violence that is in their blood, that is itching to be processed out of them viscerally, that is their first learned response no matter how calm and cooperative they seem the rest of the time.

I did not fight with her or argue with her.

I sent her to her bed, and let her calm down.

When she was calm, and I could hear her singing, I wrote her a letter in her journal.

I suggested she consider oppression and pride and natural consequences of both, and gave her journal prompts.  I reminded her that the choices of her biological family are not my fault, but also that she has every reason in the world to be angry and sad about all they have done and all she has endured and the ongoing grief of being separated from her family – but that she should put this into words and express them directly, rather than just screaming at me when she is mad about something else.  I gave her journal prompts for those feelings, too, and then reminded her that I love her and that Nathan loves her and that her siblings love her and that Nathan’s parents love her.

She came to kiss me good night before bed, and I told her we would talk about it more tomorrow.

And we will.

We will find a way for her to express these things, as much as an eight year old can, because they will be her experiences and her identity and her culture and her waters to navigate.

I cannot keep her from enduring these hard pieces, but I can give her information and model expression and help her find words for all she wants to say – so that she can say it well and effectively, wherever she lands on any of the issues.

In the meantime, back in the home-work world, we also will be talking soon: I have my first book appearance tomorrow, and Thursday we send out the press releases, and this afternoon we got our first invitation to speak at a conference about our story and the book and bring books to sell there while speaking.  It’s really happening!

Even though the hardbacks for autographing are not here yet, so many copies of the book have been ordered they are already having to do a second printing!  We made a mortgage payment today and paid off the smallest medical bill.  I could cry for relief, even if it is only provision today, because that is sufficient for our needs.  We are grateful for the support, and hope sharing our story helps others.

We continue to wrestle with real life as a family, facing real issues, and struggling with normal developmental stuff.  There is always mother-daughter drama.  My brown daughter needs to know why black lives matter, and rules about being safe with the police (because she is brown and because she is deaf), and that police are not bad just because they took her away from her mother.  Emotional explosions are supposed to happen with pre-tween-agers, tired mothers, and jealous siblings.  This is mortality, and sometimes its ugly, but always it is our life together – that’s what being sealed means – and together we keep trying.

#LDSConf – Alma 40

CLICK HERE to read Alma 40.

This chapter continues Alma (Jr.)’s speech to his son Corianton, because Alma knows Corianton is worried about the resurrection of the dead (verse 1).  Alma reassured him that it had not happened yet, because it won’t happen until Christ comes (verse 2).  This is still 75 years before the birth of Christ, and death was not conquered until Christ resurrected himself (verse 3).  Then resurrection will be possible, though the great resurrection of all of us will not happen until Christ returns again (verse 4).  No one knows exactly how it will work, but we know that God knows, and that is enough.  We know that in His Order, according to His plan, “there is a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead” (verse 5).

So what of this space in “time”, between death and the resurrection? (verse 6)

What happens to souls during this window of time? (verse 7)

Alma teaches that “time” is only an illusion, measured for us here and now physically based on our experience on this planet, and so “time only is measured unto men” (verse 8).  So time for us is really only an illusion, other than there being specific Order to things – and there will be a specific time when we will be called forth in the resurrection (verse 9), and God knows when that time is (verse 10).

But what of that space between our experience of death, and our experience of resurrection?

Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection – Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life (verse 11).

The “spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise” (verse 12), and the “spirits of the wicked” (those who do “evil works rather than good”) “shall be cast out into outer darkness” (verse 13).  This is where the spirits remain until the resurrection (verse 14).   In this way, spirits are assigned to the places (“happiness or misery”) they have chosen (verse 15), and this will happen for everyone (verse 16).

However, the resurrection itself means the “the reuniting of the soul with the body” (verses 17-20).

After the resurrection, in our resurrected bodies, we will “be brought to stand before God”, and be judged according to our works (verse 21).  What Christ has done makes our resurrection possible, and everyone will receive that gift of immortality.  But the quality of that immortality – the kind of life it will be – depends on the choices we make now.

But in the resurrection, everything will be “restored to their proper and perfect frame” (verses 23-24).

The righteous will “shine forth in the kingdom of God” (verse 25), for “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 26).

This is why we are grateful for the atonement, which makes entering the kingdom of God even possible, and for the Holy Spirit that does sanctify us so that we may be clean enough to do so.

#LDSConf – Alma 39

CLICK HERE to read Alma 39.

This chapter, through chapter 42, is Alma’s talk with his son Corianton.

Alma has “somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother”, because Corianton is in big trouble.  The previous chapter had a short and sweet blessing of peace and strength and counsel to a son who had been obedient, completed his mission, and was continuing to teach the people.

But Alma’s youngest son, Corianton, has not been faithful.  He went on his mission and hooked up with a non-covenant girl in non-covenant ways.  But that was just where the mess culminated.

It started with pride.  Corianton was boasting in his own strength and wisdom, instead of acknowledging that it comes from the Lord (verse 2).  But then he provided he had little strength, because he did not finish his mission, and he had little wisdom, for he abandoned his mission all together (verse 3).

That’s where he met the non-covenant girl and did non-covenant things.

Alma agreed with Corianton’s defense (you can almost hear him whine, “But, dad…”), saying that this girl was a “harlot” and had charmed many, “yea, she did steal away the hearts of many”… but he confronts the poor choice, saying “this was no excuse for thee, my son” (verse 4).  Corianton knew better, had been taught the covenants, and was trusted to serve his mission.  “Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou was entrusted” (verse 4).

If he had not been lost to pride and false wisdom, he would not have been lost to sexual sin.

Part of true humility and true wisdom is knowing and understanding that we need correction, instruction, and guidance to choose well – and expecting it.  It comes from our daily prayers, our daily scripture studies, and through our priesthood leaders and church meetings.  It comes from prophets and apostles and personal revelation.  But it does come, for we do sorely need it.

Sexual sin, especially in the case of this charmer, can be very subtle.  Most people – not all, but most – do not start out hoping to commit some big sexual sin.  There are many layers to this subtlety.  Non-sexual attraction is natural and appropriate, and different people resonate with us for different reasons.  There are also some people who are more attractive than others, either physically or emotionally or intellectually or in some specific trait kind of way that we find preferable.  That’s okay, and it is how we choose friends and enjoy each other’s company.  And as part of friendship, it’s even okay when there is some emotional interdependence, with turn-taking in supporting one another or helping each other through life’s challenges.  That’s “mutual edification” when applied spiritually, and it is good and right and part of the plan.  So that’s okay.  It’s not a problem.

The problem comes when that emotional interdependence slips into dependence, or attachment, or steps out-of-bounds of a healthy relationship.  That’s when trauma-drama starts, when people are overwhelmed because someone expects them to “save” them, or when people drown because they think someone else can do their work for them, or when inappropriate emotional attachments (or “emotional affairs”) begin to develop.

This is when we need correction, instruction, and guidance.

We may receive this correction and instruction and be able to develop the skills to put things back in balance, and be just fine.

We may receive this correction and instruction and not have the skills to keep things in balance, and so need to withdraw (separate ways, like Abram making peace with Lot) in order to protect ourselves from ourselves.

There may be some combination of the two, depending on whether the other person also receives correction and instruction and is able to keep things in balance or not.

But it only requires one person to keep good boundaries for everyone to be safe.  So it is always our own responsibility.  If we are each responsible for ourselves, that also means any slippage is both person’s faults, and not just one person’s fault.  So it is critical that we ourselves accept the correction and instruction that comes, and repent, and let the Savior restore the balance of things or withdraw ourselves if it cannot be restored or is too spiritually dangerous.

But if we refuse the correction, and ignore the instruction, and stray from the guidance, then we fall into a mess of our own making.

And it is a big mess, the worst, except for murder or denying the Holy Ghost (verse 5).

Denying the Holy Ghost is big because it means you deny yourself access to the presence of God, and murder is bad because taking another’s life deprives them of the opportunity to repent and obtain forgiveness (verse 6).

Sexual sin is bad because it takes what is good and right and applies it out-of-Order.  It is good and right and holy, but it also has a place, and timing, and context – and that place and timing and context is granted by the proper authority.  So to take it out of place, out of timing, or out of context also takes it out from under the proper authority, and that is a lot of out-of-Order-ness.

Alma discusses this directly with his son, saying that he “would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good” (verse 7).  But it’s a big deal, and needs to be address directly.  Alma addresses it directly not to shame his son further, but to help him to full repentance so that he can find his way back to God.   “… ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day” (verse 8).

So, says Alma, “I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes” (verse 9).   This is an important part of repentance, to stop doing what was out-of-Order.   He also tells him to counsel with his older brothers, who are wise because “thou art in thy youth, and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers.  And give heed to their counsel” (verse 10).   This is another reason it is important for us to have good friends whom we choose wisely, for they do counsel us and can help hold us accountable so that it does not happen again.

Alma also discusses with him the effects of his sin.  Besides sexual sin, the effects of his bad behavior included destroying the testimony of the prophets.  When Alma went to preach to the people, part of why they did not believe what he said was because they had seen how his son behaved (verse 11).  His son was not just some kid with bad behavior, but was there on a mission preaching to the people but not walking the talk.  This was hypocrisy, and the people called him out on it.   We must live as we teach, and this is often part of our correction: testifying of that which we know because we have been corrected and instructed in the matter.

So this is part of Alma’s instruction to his son, for him to “do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities; that ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done” (verses 12-13).

Our testimonies are not only our words, but our actions.

If I have been loved well and taught what it means to be part of a family, then my testimony is not only talking about family-related principles, but also working hard to love and care for my own family as much as they will let me.

Part of our testimonies is also acknowledging that we fail, when we fail, and sharing in a way that teaches the principles we are learning and testifying of repentance and the atonement.   This is not the same as dwelling on the past, focusing on negative things, condemning ourselves, or not forgiving ourselves – those things deny the atonement and do not allow it to work through its full process in us.  We do share in process, but then we also move forward, line upon line.  Alma recounted his conversion story to his sons in detail, but it is only recorded once.   The rest of his teachings are about other principles, and what he has learned since then.  We should always be moving onward and upward, one step at a time.   The plan is based on progression, so we must move forward.

Alma then reminds Corianton that  Christ will “come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people” (verse 15).  Corianton knows this from growing up in the Gospel, but needs this message in a personal way as he goes through his own repentance process and deepens his own conversion.  This message of hope and mercy is the mission he was called to serve, “to declare these glad tidings unto this people, to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming” (verse 16).   It is time for Corianton to claim that hope and mercy for himself.

Finally, Alma answers Corianton’s questions about how they know Christ will come before he comes.  It is not that Corianton doubts Christ will come, but he is asking why they should know about it ahead of time.  Alma answers, “is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?”  (verse 17).  Christ came for all people, not just the people of His day.  He came for the people born long before He was born in Bethlehem, and He came for those of us born long after.   “Is it not as necessary that the plan of redemption should be made known unto this people as well as unto their children?” (verse 18).   “Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his angel to declare these glad tidings unto us as unto our children, or as after the time of his coming?” (verse 19).