Monday, April 30, 2018

I Love Jesus and I Cuss...

I was in CA soaking up my beach front hotel and my yoga teacher training for kids when I received one of the most shocking phone calls of my life. Our stake president had texted me and asked if he could meet with Mark and I. We had been called as stake sex addiction specialists, so we figured it was either for that or we had stake conference coming up and he was going to ask us to speak.  We were curious, but we really weren't worried about it. When I told him that I was in CA and the rest of my family was in ID, he said he would get back with me. Within a few hours he texted again and said that because of my return travel plans and his travel plans to leave town for a business trip, we would need to meet over the phone instead. By the time of the appointment, Mark was back in UT, so Mark headed to our stake president's office and they brought me in by phone.

My heart leaped and nearly stopped as I was extended the call to be our next stake RS president. A million thoughts passed through my head and a jumble of emotions rose up in my heart. Being such a visual person, I wish I could have SEEN Mark during this conversation, but he was very tender, encouraging, and supportive. We both accepted the call to serve with great emotion and awaited more details and information. Mark called me back after he left our stake president's office and we had a tender conversation together. Mark is such an amazing man! He is so supportive of me and quietly takes care of all the behind-the-scenes things so that I can give and love and serve. I truly am grateful for such a wonderful spouse; we are learning to be a power couple and accomplish great things side-by-side.

And so began the long and sleepless nights! In addition to worrying about gathering the rest of my presidency, there was something else repeating over and over again in my head. At first I couldn't even fully identify and articulate the racing thoughts. My mind just kept playing whatever it was incoherently in the back of my mind. It wasn't until almost a week and a half after accepting the call that I had a conversation with my sister that helped me pinpoint exactly what it was. She told me about a t-shirt she used to have that said, "I love Jesus and I cuss." We had a good laugh about it, but as Mark and I went up to our bedroom for the night, I burst out crying. That is exactly the problem! I really do love Jesus and I really do cuss! (I am completely serious about this. I had frozen my emotions because of deep pain and fear. Once they finally began to thaw with recovery work and rebuilding trust, an exclamation mark behind what I said wasn't enough to express the damed up emotions. Ask my kids, I have gotten so much better, but still...I do love Jesus and I really do cuss! I'm working on this.)

...And then a flood of nearly nonsense words tearfully surfaced while Mark patiently listened. "I am supposed to be the stake RS president and sometimes I still cuss!...Sometimes I yell at my kids!...I have a husband who looks like a biker...I still have last Autumn's leaves to rake up in my yard, I have a lawn full of dandelions, and flowerbeds full of kids scream and yell during Sacrament meeting (among other things)...I have been through betrayal trauma. Nobody even wants to talk about that and here we are so open about it...I am too young...I don't crochet lace doilies...and I'm not sweet and soft-spoken, but such a bold woman. I can't be the stake RS president and be who I am at the same time! I can't be both!!!" And suddenly I knew exactly what had been constantly chattering in the back of my mind. And it was simply beautiful to come full circle.

All of us have gaps, places we fall terribly short, or paradoxes. We know who we want to be or who we "should" be. We know what we want to be doing or what we "should" be doing, yet at the very same moment, most of the time we aren't that person...yet. We really can be both at the same time, and we will be both until we aren't both any more. These gaps don't just go away. We won't come to find ourselves and remember who we really are any other way. This is exactly where we must start! As we discover and acknowledge these gaps (rather than ignoring them) and as we invite and allow our Savior to enter into the details of working through them (rather than justifying or minimizing), then we slowly become the child of God that has been buried deep inside from living on a fallen planet surrounded by mortals.

And then in that moment of Light shifting my insight, so many other experiences and moments of inspiration since the call were strengthened and reinforced. During one long night, God answered my prayers for peace by reminding me of many tender, tender experiences where my family and I had been ministered to through our darkest hours. He showed me that even though there are so many things that I am and so many mistakes I have made or things I have done, that isn't why He needs me right now at this time in this capacity. He simply needs me because I understand ministering because of the ways we were taught. We were truly surrounded by Christ-like individuals who had found their Savior and allowed Him to work in their lives. The ways they lifted, blessed, and strengthened us simply happened naturally. It was an outward manifestation of what had/was going on inside of them.  Although I have many weaknesses, shortcomings, and flaws, God still needs me. He needs me not in spite of all I have been through, but because of what I have been through. Being reminded that "I love Jesus and I cuss," helped me to know where my focus needs to be: ministering from the inside out. When my stake president extended the call, he said we are to assist in the Priesthood work of the stake. (It's not a women and the Priesthood thing!) That means anything that leads individuals and families to understand, prepare to make, remember, and honor covenants and the associated ordinances. Our efforts to minister are to not only meet individuals needs, but ultimately to point them to Jesus Christ and covenants---for it is through the covenants that our Savior is given increased power to draw us to Him as we turn to Him and choose Him more fully by entering into and keeping them. So, God needs me to support our stake as we learn to minister from the inside out in ways that lead individuals to covenants.

As I knew why God needed me, it made the important task of calling my presidency easier. It became very clear who to call. We need other women who understand ministering as well. We need women who will help our relief societies and wards to be safe havens where women and their families are truly loved and accepted regardless of outward appearances, past life experiences, our current choices or sins. My presidency is made up of brave women who have been through difficult experiences and love our Savior. Each one is a strong woman who will bring unique talents and abilities as we serve the women in our stake.

There have been so many tender mercies in the past 2 weeks as I have processed through all of this. Quiet moments were very difficult because I would be flooded with thoughts and emotions that needed to be unpackaged. Just as I would feel settled and excited about this calling, I would discover yet another layer of insecurities, worries, and inadequacies to work through with Heavenly Father. On and on it went with some tiny traces still clinging on. There was one day that I decided to go for a walk. Miraculously, a friend had decided to walk the same route and my heart was lifted and lightened through our friendship. Another day, an amazon package with a book written by President Nelson showed up on my doorstep. The books' primary message is, "God uses the unlikely to accomplish the impossible." (I later found out that this was from my brother and sister-in-law, but oh, how I needed to learn that last week!) There were "random" texts of kind words and encouragement from friends who didn't even know that I was wrestling so intensely. I finally emailed our families after a week. I could feel the strength of their prayers helping me to push back the darkness. One of the sweetest tender mercies was the morning of stake conference. I had been asked about a month ago to conduct a children's choir for conference. We sang 3 prelude songs and then 2 others during the meeting. Although to some it seemed that it would add to my burden to have "double duty" on such a big day, Heavenly Father knew I would have been a nervous wreck. Instead of worrying as the meeting was about to start or before I spoke, I had two of my favorite things---children and music---to focus on instead of my new calling be announced and the invitation to bear my testimony during the meeting. I was completely overwhelmed after coming home and checking my phone. Complete strangers had looked up my number on the stake directory and sent me extremely kind and encouraging text messages. There were also sweet notes from others who know me and love me that have meant so much. I have been powerfully reminded of how much my Heavenly Father loves me! I have felt His arms around me in the past 2 weeks and I know He will continue to sustain me and meet my needs as I seek to do all in my power and in His strength to build Zion in our stake.

We were set apart yesterday as a presidency. We were each given powerful blessings and I literally felt the mantel settle on me. It is difficult to describe. There is a love and concern for the women and their families and their well-being that I cannot fully articulate. In my blessing, I was reminded that the greatest potency I will have as a president is to minister to the ward leaders and teach them about ministering rather than focusing all of my efforts on the women in the stake (but as I have opportunities to minister one-by-one, to do it). That was really amazing to consider on. In this calling, I have a much greater capacity to reach a greater circle of influence by teaching others and then supporting them as they primary do the reaching. It reminds me of my patriarchal blessing where it talks about how my efforts will touch others so they will be able to brighten the lives of others, too. God promised me that I will develop a meekness and gentleness that will make it possible for all women to be comfortable with interacting with me---where strong women can be intimidating to some personalities---but He told me to never bury my light or my talent. I have been aware of this need for a long time and I am excited for this. I was told to keep my primary focus on my home and my family and blessed with courage to cancel meetings or make any changes necessary to meet the needs of my family first. I have worried a lot about having such a young family with this calling. I was reminded that God knows and will give us what we need. I was told that heaven is aware of this call and that God is preparing angels to help us accomplish what needs to be done. It was such a beautiful blessing! It was a privilege to hear the rest of my presidency members' blessings too and God's awareness of each one of them. I learned about their strengths and the important reasons why each one of them is in this presidency. After we were all set apart, our stake president reminded us to keep it simple. He encouraged us to cut out any frills and to focus on the spiritual needs. I'm not a crafty/cutesty/make things pretty person, so I am excited for that!:)

Overall, I am humbled, amazed, and in awe for the beautiful opportunity and privilege. God knows each one of us and prepares us to bless and strengthen others in their moments of need. In the early hours of the morning yesterday as I rested in God's love for me, I could see that in order for me to serve at this time in this way, it was vital for me to pass through my greatest heartaches. It has shaped me and refined me and these difficulties granted opportunities for me to learn about ministering by God sending countless angels on earth to teach me and my family and to help us find our Savior and understand the power of covenants. Now I get to pass that on in such a big way! God is simply amazing!!!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ministering from the Inside Out

The exciting change announced at General Conference of moving towards a more ministering focus is not a re-branding of home and visit teaching. It isn't intended to be a new program either. It isn't something we can check off the list and even though it does require us to take action, it is more about being than doing.

How can we truly minister? I believe is has to be from the inside out. Otherwise it isn't ministering. :) In terms of 12-step programs, service is step 12---the very last step. I had spent most of my life trying to do it the other way around---from the outside in---giving to others first and in my own strength and ability. Amazingly, the second to last step in the LDS ARP 12-step program is having the inspiration of the Spirit. Again, neither of these are steps are step 1. I cannot emphasize enough that neither of these steps is where we start because that won't be ministering. It will be something else.

So where do we start? I believe we must start in truly understanding the Creation and the Fall...not just generally, but personally. That means we can finally see our own fallen bodies and our natural man tendencies (which can very often center around those fallen bodies and what makes them feel good). We can see the spiritual implications of being cast out of God's presence and as we are cast out of God's presence, again, we gravitate towards those things that make us feel better as we seek to fill up that void. Again, not just human nature in general, but your own personal human nature and tendencies. We must come to see our "nothingness." That doesn't mean that we don't have potential or that God doesn't love us. It simply means we recognize how powerless we are, especially in relation to our Heavenly Father. For many of us because of pride, stubbornness, or maybe even not being taught pure doctrines (or any other reason), we don't typically come to this conclusion without "help." That help came in many forms for me and my husband. Loss, struggles, and addiction all brought us to finally recognize our nothingness. We were so prideful that we literally had to be to the point where we had just about lost everything before we finally "got it." Summarizing it in a paragraph doesn't do it justice! But this is where we start whether we come to this understanding willingly or we are invited to it through circumstances that compel us to discover it.

Just like we must come to a personal understanding of the Fall, we must next come to a personal understanding of the Atonement and Jesus Christ. Once we have gone through the process of understanding the personal implications of the Fall, we can now receive the good news of the personal implications of the Atonement (see President Benson's take HERE). If we misinterpret our nothingness as worthlessness or we don't press forward to gain even the smallest flicker of hope in Christ that can grow into faith and then a trust in Him, we will become discouraged, despairing, and maybe even bitter or sarcastic. We feel stuck in our nothingness. The adversary can have a heyday at this point in our journey if we don't press forward. The truth is that no matter what we have done or the mistakes we have made, because of Jesus Christ there is always hope! As we begin to allow Christ in and learn to take Him with us into the messes and craziness of our every day lives and as we learn to not only abide in Him, but also abide His love, it is that love that changes us. It is that love that sustains us. The amazing thing that I discovered is that Christ and His love are instantly available. They don't kick in at the very end. I don't have to wait until I "clean up my act" or "get my crap together" before I can access Jesus Christ's strength or love. Don't get me wrong! I used to think that when people alluded to abiding in Christ they were saying that we just kick back and do nothing. That isn't what it means to abide in Christ! As you will see in a moment, abiding is Christ requires much more of us than continuing in our own strength! Again, one paragraph is severely inadequate because each one of us will progress in our personal journeys at different paces and with different details. For some each leg can last months, years, or even decades. We must seek, over a lifetime, to come to a perfect knowledge of the Atonement because everything that we do rests on our ability to understand and allow the Atonement into all the details of our lives.

And as that hope in Christ blossoms into a trust, we are then ready to do whatever God asks us to do. At the top of His list will be an opportunity to begin closely examining our lives. As we try to take this fearless introspection without first firmly building a strong foundation of understanding our nothingness, understanding Christ's power, and trusting God, it will be difficult (or maybe even impossible) to take the necessary action steps to finish this necessary process. As we do it in God's strength through our Savior Jesus Christ, we will be sustained through the rigors of this part of our journey, too. Why does this even matter if we are only seeking to serve other people? What does our past---our sins, weaknesses, tendencies, or even our previous traumatic events---have to do with ministering? As we take inventory of what is in our minds and our hearts and the ways they drive the patterns of beliefs/thoughts/emotions/actions/behaviors, we can become aware of and then do something about what is holding us back from becoming more Christ-like, those things that would otherwise prevent us from truly connecting with others, unresolved issues that consume our energy mentally and emotionally, and the patterns or tendencies that have kept us stuck for so long. It's all here just waiting to be discovered and resolved. I promise that our Savior will help you with the tender details of what's here because He needs you to overcome all of this!

As we are now aware of what is actually there inside of us...the ugly...the shameful...the darkest shades of black...and all the lies we have come to believe about ourselves, others, the way the world works, and even God or Christ's time to clear our heartland from the (often) decades of build up, hiding, and shame. Just like every part of our journey so far, our Savior will be right there and in every detail. We work through the repentance process and begin experiencing repentance as a pattern rather than a one-time event. Repentance isn't God's back up plan in case we mess up. It is God's plan! (See Elder Robbins' talk HERE). We allow Christ's mercy to meet the demands of justice in our own personal lives. We participate in The Great Exchange---exchanging all our sins for His righteousness and His grace. We seek for a mighty change of heart and allow Him, as we have in each step before, to be our constant power source through the challenges of this portion of our journey. A mighty change of heart doesn't mean that we no longer sin, it simply means we no longer desire to do so. As soon as we realize we have made a mistake, we quickly repent and make it right. We seek forgiveness from others and we seek to forgive those who have hurt or harmed us. In short, we allow Christ to help us get our lives in order. Do you believe that is possible? If not, what is the gospel of Jesus Christ then? Christ can change us!!! Christ can strength us to be changed, to repent, and to forgive and seek forgiveness.

Now that the soil of our heart is becoming free from all the harmful weeds of anger, resentment, hate, bitterness, feeling justified in our enmity and division towards God and others, self-centeredness, lasciviousness, idolatry, etc... NOW there is finally room for the "flowers of grace [to] appear." Now there is room for  Christ's very nature to be distilled upon us---another gift of grace by Christ and through the Spirit. He continues to draw us to Him as He refines us and sanctifies us. Just like every other aspect of our journey, this is a personal process. The details will be different for each one of us. That is why this entire life-long journey must be taken privately. Although Christ's Atonement was performed only once, God redeems and exalts each of His children one by one. Now there is finally room for the Spirit to speak for us clearly. Now God can send us on His errand because we can hear His voice. Now we know who and what and how to reach God's children because it's about them, not patting our own ego on the back. And as we petition Heavenly Father on behalf of others and seek to know how to point them to Christ, He answers us! He knows all of His children and loves each one of them. He knows how to criss-cross our lives together (see Elder Rasband's talk HERE) so we are invited to begin or continue in this process and to meet the needs of each one of His children.

And as we seek the gifts of the Spirit and to become more like our Savior, we can seek for the greatest of all gifts---charity. "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen" (Moroni 7:48, emphasis added). To be filled means that charity can be in us, but it isn't of us. It has to come from Christ. It's His love that is in us; it isn't something that we can manufacture ourselves. THEN as we are filled with the Spirit and charity we will be able to reach, love, and serve as Christ would---even with Him...alongside of Him.

I am eternally grateful for those who tirelessly ministered to me and my family like this and patiently taught us how to begin this process in our own lives. We are living proof that ministering works! Although we attended church every week, held temple recommends and callings, and were such good little soldiers, we were still completely lost. Our Savior called to us. Those around us ministered to us in ways that only enhanced what Christ was seeking to do for us. They didn't distract from Him or seek to point us to them, but always, always it was turning us towards Him. They knew that it is Christ who had the power to change our lives and eventually fill us with His love in such a way that it is impossible not to spill out to other seeking and hurting hearts. I feel so privileged for these tender experiences and to have learned these things in such a beautiful way---surrounded by those who sought for inspiration, were filled with charity, and acted as directed by the Spirit and with Christ's love for me. God prepared the way for us to be able to weather through the fiery trials of our faith and the majority of those means came through proper ministering from our ward and stake family.

This is how we minister. It must be from the inside out or it isn't ministering. Christ will continue to call to each one of us and draw us to Him. May we get out of the way and let Him into our own lives and then seek for the privilege of assisting others to do the same. <3

Friday, April 20, 2018

Mindful Parenting Course!

I am seriously GIDDY to finally get to tell you about this up-coming course!!! I believe it is one that any parent would be interested in attending; however, families or family members who have experienced traumatic events will have special interest in it. I designed the course with families who are seeking to heal from addiction in mind, but it will be a good fit for any parent. Every child experiences trauma and, therefore, benefits from having parents who are more mindful. We will explore mindful parenting and weave breath work, yoga poses, and meditations that are kid-friendly throughout the day. Individuals or couples are welcome to attend. You can either attend in-person or online, so please share this! Let me know if you have any questions, otherwise follow the link (HERE) to the calendar and click on the Mindful Parenting course on the calendar (May 12th). Click either the individual or couple option, fill in your info, and you will be all registered. I hope to see you soon! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Supporting our Leaders by Helping to Qualify Them...

The door was left wide open and I almost stepped into the office before I realized they were softly praying. This bishopric was preparing to council together about the needs and concerns of the individuals in their ward. I found myself teary-eyed as I observed this sacred moment. It reminded me how many leaders truly care about the individuals they serve. They are trying and God is magnifying their efforts! I was there to deliver the first round of care packages for the women in our stake battling betrayal trauma from their husband's sexual betrayal. I was greeted with gratitude and humility. The bishop eagerly accepted the packages and sincerely thanked me for my contributions.

Bishops and other priesthood leaders come from a wide variety of backgrounds, upbringings, and life experiences. I believe it isn't fair to make blanket statements or perpetuate stereotypes. I personally know individuals who have been hurt as they have worked with their priesthood leaders. I know individuals who have felt heard and loved as they have worked with their priesthood leaders. I hope to acknowledge both sides so we can come together and open up a dialogue. When there is an "us" against "them," we are usually distracted from addressing and resolving the actual problem. I am not attempting to resolve this complex issue, but I want to be clear on where I stand with it and offer some food for thought. Is it possible to see both sides? I believe it is and we can choose to be part of the solution.

We need to do all in our power to become educated to protect ourselves, our children, the children, or others to prevent violation or abuse from happening in the first place. I believe that means in any circumstance or setting. We need to be aware rather than expecting or waiting others to do it for us. Unfortunately, there is no safe place that we can let our guard down. We need to listen to our gut (for ourselves, our kids, and those we love). We need to speak sensitively but confidently as we teach our children; we need to talk to them about preventing and reporting abuse. We also need to help the reporting process to properly take place and to support those who are healing from the effects of abuse. Sometimes that doesn't happen. Sometimes people slip through the cracks in the prevention and/or reporting and/or healing process. That is heartbreaking! It adds an additional layer of complexity when the broken process is associated with safe havens, such as within families or congregations or leaders who either create the initial abuse or compound the situation by mishandling it.

But the solution I do want to offer today is to help qualify our leaders in the complex issues they are expected to address. I do not have personal experience with abuse; however, I have loved ones who do. I can easily touch that part of myself that knows what violation, not being believed, or feeling responsible for others' actions feels like. With multiple recent current events, I am writing this post with abuse in mind, yet I believe it has a broader application. We can support our leaders by helping to qualify them in any life event or complex situation that we have adequate personal experience or expertise in. I mean that with respect. God can already qualify them as His instrument, as they allow Him to. We cannot take the place of that qualification. No amount of education or awareness of man-made protocols or solutions can trump that qualification. I believe as we accept callings to serve and we are set apart in that capacity, we are literally called by God Himself. We have a mantle and a stewardship and the opportunity to serve individuals alongside our Savior. I have experienced countless times where God has blessed me with flashes of inspirations to know how to reach His individual children within my stewardship. I have known just the right things to say or how to say them. I have known exactly what needed to be done. I have been enlightened to find answers to questions or solutions to problems. I believe our priesthood leaders are called of God, too. I see "6" here. The calling of our leaders or the places God needs an individual to serve is not the same as establishing a president of an organization. It isn't by popular vote and may not even follow obvious "logic" or "reason." God calls who He needs and He qualifies who He calls (as we allow Him to qualify us---the may require a process rather than a one-time event).

Before you start yelling, "9" at me, I see the flip-side, too. Not every leader has worked through the process to be prepared to adequately meet the needs of the individuals they serve. Not every leader has honest and good intentions. No individual serves perfectly all of the time. Sometimes those short-comings really don't make an eternal impact. For example, maybe a teacher doesn't look at the lesson until half-heartedly throwing something together during Sacrament meeting. That isn't the ideal and it's unfortunate that it happens that way, but it may be "okay---" I acknowledge that one lesson, prepared for the individual, may have eternal impact. I am not trying to make light of this important opportunity. Other times the misgivings, short-comings, ignorance, or even sins as an individual exercises unrighteous dominion in their calling can be extremely detrimental. I see "9," too.

Although I cannot wave a magic wand and fix the real and heart-wrenching individuals' experiences, I can do all within my power to make the process smoother within my circle of influence. I can do my very best to spare individuals from unnecessary hurt or secondary trauma. I see "9" that not every leader or priesthood leader is prepared, aware, receptive, or humble enough to admit that they don't have experience with whatever situation presents itself. Personally, I wonder if sometimes it hits a little "too close to home," hence the defensiveness of some leaders. Yet in my personal experience, I have seen "6" as I have interacted with my priesthood leaders in regards to betrayal trauma. They have genuinely cared and wanted to understand how best to support me and other women like me. That doesn't mean that they were perfect all of the time. It doesn't mean that they did everything "right," but as a friend once said while our gospel doctrine class discussed priesthood leaders, I believe, "It all works out in the wash." As our leaders honestly seek to be qualified---being called by God Himself and also by becoming educated, aware, and willing to continue to seek, study, and learn about difficult and complex issues---the counsel they offer us that we prayerfully consider will all work out in the wash. We must do our part. We cannot expect our leaders to take the place of professionals. Unless they are therapists or come from a similar background, most leaders cannot do that. Why would we expect that from them? I do, however,  believe it's fair to expect that they have enough of a general understanding, awareness, and education to be sensitive to difficult situations and to connect individuals with appropriate and helpful resources. If that isn't our experience, I believe we can be part of the solution. How can we expect them to understand without our help and encouragement? I also believe that they can earn the privilege of being on an individual's support team for the spiritual healing needs. Just like professionals' roles in our healing process cannot be duplicated, neither can our bishop's role be duplicated! They can offer spiritual counseling that cannot be offered anywhere else. I see "9" that it doesn't always happen like that. We cannot draw water from an empty well. I believe as we become more aware (and support our leaders as they do the same), we can have what we need to heal and God is better able to use us to help love and support His other children.

I see we have a two-fold responsibility. We are responsible for our end. We need to become aware, educated, and understand how to prevent abuse and how to properly report it and discover the resources to be able to heal from it. We can't expect our leaders to shoulder the responsibility of abuse or other complex issues alone. ALL of us need to be prepared. We never know when we may be called upon to act at any point in this process or other complex issues for ourselves, our loved-ones, our friends, or ward/stake members.

I believe that each one of us can help qualify our leaders. Again, it isn't the same qualification that God offers, yet maybe in some cases it is actually the very same. God works through means. So why not through you? As you have experiences, education, and expertise, why not prayerfully reach to your leaders and become a resource for your ward or stake family? I'm not talking about ripping leaders apart or assuming we know better than they do. I am not saying that someone off on the side-lines has more know-how about an individual's calling or stewardship. My experience has been that my leaders were much more receptive and even excited about what I shared with them than I expected they would be. I believe a genuine desire to understand and learn is the hallmark of a leader that God can work through. What I am suggesting is partnering with God to know how you can help them understand and be more prepared to interact with other individuals in similar situation. Because of your own healing process, you can probably easily connect them to the most helpful resources that are available for the particular issue you are discussing. I have seen "6" personally here, too. All of my priesthood leaders over the years have been excellent! They have been eager to hear what I was learning in my group counseling program, private counseling, or 12-step. I have never once been "shut down." I have been amazed at my recent experiences. I kept expecting my leaders to tell me no at any point, but as we have tried to improve the outcomes for betrayal trauma in our stake, everything has been met with yes every time. And what if this is your experience, too? I will admit that it has taken more courage than I believed I had within me. I praise God for strengthening me to do it---to stand up and speak offer education and preach of Christ in the ways He has blessed me in my darkest hours. What if your leaders are like mine? What if they are not only thankful, but also eager to understand what you would offer them? What if God could use you to help qualify them to be more sensitive, aware, and prepared leaders? We can be part of the solution rather than complaining about the "ignorance" of our leaders---both individually or casting blanket statements collectively. Complaining doesn't solve the problem, but following the Spirit on how this might look for each one of us can!

I understand "9" through many dear one's experiences where they haven't felt heard or supported as they came to their leaders for support with various experiences. I know that leaders have used their callings to cause hurt, harm, or for personal gain (whether consciously or subconsciously). It happens. I won't pretend it doesn't. The ideal is that any individual can come to their leaders and be safe, loved, and supported. It may not necessarily be a comfortable experience, especially when repentance or change is needed, but it should never be a shaming, demeaning, or silencing experience. Every leader will have their own style. We may need to learn to work with the quirks or personality differences. Maybe we would do or say something differently than our leader, but we need to let the small stuff go. This isn't our excuse or justification to speak poorly of our leaders. I don't have the answer on how to proceed when we truly experience "9" as we come to our leaders for support or to offer information because I cannot speak from personal experience here. Maybe you can help add to this dialogue in the comments below?

Here are a few things to maybe consider:
1. Become educated. Maybe that is part of why I saw "6" as I healed from betrayal trauma? I was currently working with multiple avenues of professionals for my physical and mental/emotional needs and healing. I was confident in what I was learning and experiencing. A specific example of becoming educated when abuse is involved: did you know there is a 24 hour help line the bishops need to call for anything associated with abuse? Now you do and you can help qualify your bishop so he does, too.
2. Have you clearly expressed your situation? Again, a specific example of abuse: have you called a spade a spade? Are you dancing around it or have you spoken directly about your situation? (ie-my spouse is physically harming me)? We can't hold our leaders responsible for things they aren't aware of.
3. Is it possibly something on your end? Are you in the right or have you become offended from council that is actually spot on, but isn't something that you want to do? You are the expert of you and as you go to God with this, you are the one to call the shot here.
2. If you are in the right, go to the stake president if the bishop isn't receptive. Maybe the bishop needs more practice, but that doesn't mean you need to be left unheard or unable to step forward in the healing process.
3. I believe that sometimes leaders may not be receptive because it hits too close to home. For whatever reason, our interaction is triggering some of their own "stuff." Again, that doesn't mean you need to be left without support. Advocate for yourself! Regardless of how a leader responds or doesn't respond, you are the one to live with the aftermath, so keep trying and reaching.
4. God loves you. He hears your prayers. He knows you and the details of your life. Never stop reaching out to Him!

This post is not written from someone with personal experience with abuse or negative experiences with priesthood leaders, but I hope you will overlook any flaws. Please add to the dialogue. Let's help each other to see both sides without defense. Please be part of the solution within your own circle of influence by educating yourself and seeking to educate and qualify others and your leaders.

Monday, March 19, 2018

My B-Day

Gavin and Shipton helping me put the demo boxes together.  It has been about a 6 months process start to finish, but we were given the go-ahead to assemble care packages for the women in our stake battling betrayal trauma from a spouse's sexual infidelity! Each item was clearly meant to be included (check out Mark's video HERE to see what they are like). I was expecting a request for maybe 20, but the bishops asked for 60 (so we did 70 to have a 10-box-buffer). My family could help me do a few of these, but 70!?! I quickly realized this was bigger than us, which is how it should be. As I considered possible dates, I realized my B-Day was coming...I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my life than by making others' lives brighter! With amazing connections that were truly God sent, everything arrived on time. As we made our final preparations for these, it has been a beautiful experience for me. There is healing in paying it forward, making the path smoother and clearer for others, and pointing others to Christ. It doesn't change what happened, but at the same time, it softens the experiences from the past and allows even more love into my own heart. I believe one reason we go through difficulty is that God can use us to reach His other children; we would be unable to do so without our experiences.

Sennika helping to carefully measure, cut, and heat seal-the ribbon. The care packages came together with our entire family working together on the prep work. I appreciate their love, support, and interest. I didn't remember to take a single picture or movie clip of my "B-Day party" (our care package assembly party), but it was incredible. It gave me goose bumps seeing all of the beautiful boxes lined up against the wall, knowing they represent women who will hopefully have a smoother healing process because of our efforts. I cannot fully articulate what it meant to me that night. As my life was completely shattered, I was alone and had no idea where to turn. We had already been working with therapists for about 6 months previously and things had only gotten worse. I felt like I was the only one in my situation and I had no idea where to start, let alone what to do. But to have an entire roomful of people coming together to support these packages plus easily double that who couldn't be in two places at once, did something to my heart. People care! They really do! These people were there because they care about me...but they also care about women facing betrayal trauma. I have no idea what the chances are that any of the women who receive one of these packages will see this post, but if they do, I want them to know that they are so loved. Complete strangers love you. Your friends, family, and leaders love you. God loves you. You are known, even in moments of darkness, despair, and darkness. I am kicking myself that I didn't film it for you so you could experience that, but know that you aren't alone!
A woman in my self-reliance group made me a birthday basket. It was so thoughtful!

Mark scheduled my B-day off, which was a nice surprise. We snuck away for lunch together.

My beautiful roses aren't as fresh today as they were when Mark gave them to me, but their fragrance has filled the house.
It was a wonderful celebration surrounded by those who love me. I appreciate family and friends who couldn't be with me in person, but still reached out on my special day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

My Name is Sally*

*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.

My Story

Hi I’m Sally and I’m a recovering addict, recovering codependent, sexual trauma and betrayal trauma survivor. I’m also the wife to a recovering addict.  My life has been steeped in addiction in one way or another from all angles. Not only am I a recovering codependent due to addiction, but a generational codependent.  

    From my first paragraph, I am certain pictures of dark smoke filled rooms, alcohol, needles, like we see in the movies, would fill the minds of most.  Actually though, I’m that sister sitting next to you in church who has filled numerous callings, holds a temple recommend, in fact we have served together often. I’ve been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my whole life. I have gone to great lengths to make you think I’m as normal as the next person, yes, I’m a recovering perfectionist too. I feel like I should just state, “Hi I’m Sally and I’m in recovery period.” The truth is, we all are.  We will be recovering from many things in this life because we were sent to experience opposition in all things. I am 47 years old, and this last year was the first time I embraced my whole story and that is when true healing began. No one should have to struggle alone. So, I opened up and told my story in effort to educate, reach out, and help others. I have been richly blessed as I have been tutored by the hand of my all-knowing, loving Savior, Jesus Christ through His recovery plan. I had no idea when I began this journey that I would find the peace I now enjoy. I pray my words will bring comfort and lead many to the Savior where they too can find solace in His healing balm.

My Youth

     I was introduced to the world of sexual type addictions at a very young age. My first encounter was 4 years old. I hadn’t even been taught yet about the dangers. I carried a lot of anger over this fact for many years. My innocence was robbed so early on. Once I was given those God given sexual feelings, it became very difficult to put them away. A little at a time, in my home and the homes of other children, I was taught things no child should be taught by other children. They had all been hurt by someone else, unfortunately mostly family. Some were sexually abused by adults, some by teenagers. The last piece placed in my path was pornography. By 8 years old I had a full blown sexual addiction and soon after, I was addicted to pornography. Almost everything that happened to me happened while parents were home and often behind closed doors.
If I could share one thing that would prevent anyone from crossing into the private hell of addiction, it would be this experience I had at nine. At this point my parent’s eyes were partially open to the seriousness of the struggles I was having. I’m certain there were many tears and much pain as my parents prayed for me. I’m sure there were many prayers that went out in my behalf. I, however, denied having a problem and continued to struggle.
I am able to trace this experience I’m about to share back to the exact age because I received a very special gift at this time. A favorite Aunt and best friend, was preparing to go to Seminary and had received a new set of scriptures. I adored my aunt and we spent much time together. I attribute much of my healing to her example and unconditional love. She was much like an older sister. She had this beautiful Book of Mormon that was in a cream colored zipped pouch. I felt the book was special and desired to have one for myself just like it. When she received her seminary scriptures, she gave it to me.
I recognize now that this was a pivotal time in my life as the feelings of the Holy Spirit prompted me to begin reading on my own. I don’t remember what I read only how they made me feel. Oh, how I loved those scriptures. After I started reading the scriptures, I started to have nightmares.  It was the same dream and it only happened when I was reading my scriptures and praying.  The dream began with a heartbeat that got louder and louder, then I saw a man, and he just sat there laughing at me.  I was completely frozen and couldn’t move my body at all. I went to my parents and told them what was happening. They told me that if I prayed and kept reading my scriptures, they would stop. Only instead of stopping, what happened is, the more I read and prayed, the more it happened. This went on for several weeks and was to the point that I was terrified to even go to sleep. I had the same nightmare each night I read my scriptures and prayed. It wasn’t until my father laid his hands on my head and gave me a priesthood blessing that the nightmares finally stopped.
Step one in the LDS Family Service 12 Step Program reads, “Honesty: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions.” This describes my experience perfectly. I was powerless against the destroyer of souls, even with reading my scriptures and praying, because I was bound in the chains of addiction. This is what addiction does to you. It freezes you, binds you, and keeps you stuck as the Adversary, the Father of all lies, laughs at you. Though prayer and scripture study are vital parts of the recovery process, because I was lying about my addiction, I was literally bound. I, myself, was completely powerless to overcome my addiction and my life was in the control of the adversary.
As I grew older, attended church, participated in Family Home Evening and Scripture study, I continued to have experiences with the gentle feelings of the spirit. I was still struggling, still keeping most of my struggles to myself and still very much personally steeped in addiction. Somewhere between the age of 14-16, I remember attending a fireside by our Stake President. He was definitely called of God for my generation in our area.  I remember bits and pieces of what he taught, but what was most life changing for me was when he invited us to read the “Miracle of Forgiveness.” I also remember him sharing his own failings from his youth. This really made him relatable for me and filled me with hope that perhaps I could become something better.
My parents had a copy of the book in our library, and I began to read from it and allowed myself to become tutored by the spirit. This book helped me take an honest look at myself. It wasn’t an easy book to read, but was pivotal in helping me recognize what I was doing was a sin and taught me what I must do to repent. I finally went to my mother and fully disclosed all that I was going through and struggling with. She handled it beautifully and I felt of her love. We talked about what I must do and she helped me gain the courage to go talk to my Bishop. I went and talked with him, but relapsed shortly after visiting with him.
I continued to struggle of and on. I felt the weight of my burden and felt so much shame. I felt because I am a woman, that it was somehow worse. I attended seminary, kept trying to overcome, but it was difficult. After graduation, I received an unusual calling. I was called to be in a musical production with the assignment to play the lead part of Cindy, a drug addict, in the play “It’s My Life” by Carol Lynn Pierson and Lex De Azevedo. I really feel this was another piece to my personal healing. I was taught so much about addiction. I marvel to this day that I was called to this assignment, it was a tender mercy for me, one who was struggling with not drug or alcohol addiction, but sexual addiction. I had a full testimony of the gospel by this time and desperately wanted to be rid of the addiction once and for all. I went and spoke with my Bishop and explained the situation, my prior attempts to stop, and asked if he could give me a healing blessing. I had done all that I could do to overcome. After my blessing, we met a few times. I was able to report to Bishop that I was finally doing well. I was in a state of recovery. The Savior stepped in and made the difference.

Marriage & Divorce

I wish I could say I lived happily ever after, but my life only got much more difficult. A year and a half later, I was married in the temple to my high school sweetheart.  A year later after that I got pregnant and found myself in the midst of divorce. My divorce was finalized just under a week from the birth of my first daughter. I am not at liberty to share the details of all that happened here. What I can share is that even though divorce is not of the Lord, I was carried in my adversity. This is when I learned for myself that the Lord can lead us into other paths when necessary for our own personal salvation.  I was blessed with dreams that helped guide me in all of my decisions, it was during this time that I learned to lean on my Savior at a whole new level. My heart was broken and I never thought I was ever going to recover, but I did.
I had three dreams during my relationship with my then husband, one was a pre-warning of what was to come, the second one was telling me it was time to change my course, and the third came when I was considering reconciling my marriage due to confusion, after much prayer the Lord showed me some things that were taking place that had been hidden from me. Later, after the divorce, everything was fully disclosed to me, that added another witness that my dreams were in fact from the Lord. Even at my young age, and with all my imperfections and difficult past, I had indeed been blessed with a spiritual gift.  


My second husband and I started dating when my daughter was just a few months old. It wasn’t long before I received a witness that we should marry. He loved me and my daughter. He was sweet, kind and gentle. We were married by time she was 8 months old. Together we have a family of four. One daughter (He adopted her) and three sons.  When we first got married it was difficult, we didn’t know it then, but I was still struggling under the weight of my prior marriage. It made it a bit rough.
My husband is a convert to the church and didn’t join until 12. Growing up he was constantly subjected to pornography because his grandfather left magazines laying around. My husband’s past is much like my own. He too went through the steps of repentance and served a mission. As we were raising our family my husband had a relapse with his pornography addiction. The signs were there, but he denied having a problem. He was afraid if I ever found out, that I would leave him too because of my prior divorce. Satan was using fear to keep him silent. I suspected his problem and kept feeling like I was going crazy, then one night while lying in bed I had an impression to go check on him, but to be really quiet as I approached. This is when I caught him. He still denied the severity of the problem, but did go into the Bishop.
It was at this point that I really began struggling emotionally.  I was in full blown betrayal trauma. I became depressed, withdrew from friends and was overwhelmed by what I was being called to go through. I started having symptoms of PTSD, which included panic attacks, nightmares and horrible anxiety. I was so depressed that at the end of each day, often the only prayer I could offer was, “Heavenly Father, I need help!” Which was always answered with, “It’s on its way, hang on.” I was afraid to talk to anyone about what I was going through and suffered in silence for five years. Only a few were aware.
To make matters worse my sweetheart’s dad died leaving us with the responsibility to care for his aging mother who was ill. Our son while serving a mission got really ill and ended up with a life-threatening illness at the same time, I was working and my own health was going down fast due to stuffing all the emotions from what our family was going through. The only thing that got me through was I was serving as a Seminary Teacher and studying the gospel daily. It’s the only thing that kept me from sinking completely into a state of despair.
I finally called and made an appointment with a counselor. I knew I was having an emotional breakdown and was trying to do more than I could handle. I decided to get away from the family for a bit and I took a class at the Salt Palace called “Master Your Influence” by Kirk Duncan. I loved the class so much that I signed my husband up for the next class. He loved the class and really helped us strengthen our relationship. We then attended another class called “Royalty and Romance”. Kirk, our teacher, touched the heart of my husband and gave him back to me. On our drive home after this class, my husband pulled over, and I received an honest disclosure of his past. He had been free from his addiction since the time I caught him.  He was so affected by how much it had hurt me that he never dared go back. He scheduled an appointment with the Bishop and gave an honest disclosure of his past and completed the repentance process. At this point I was being mentored and taking mentor classes.  We took many classes together as a way to bond and strengthen our relationship. On the way to Salt Lake and back home we listened to Brene Brown on CD and I read her books out loud.  We spent a year strengthening our relationship taking these frequent trips and classes. It was absolutely necessary to the healing of our relationship. It was the first time we had something we were doing together that we both loved. It truly saved our marriage.
My husband and I began to talk about opening up about our story in an effort to provide support for others, however, fear of what others would think kept poking up its ugly head. Instead we stayed quiet until I read an online post where a Mormon author came out with a blog post about men needing to stop breaking the hearts of their tender wives. The way he presented it, and the notion that men can just quit addiction cold turkey, though some have, woke something up in me. I knew at that moment I had to open my mouth and speak. There was simply too much ignorance on the subject to be quite any more. At the moment, “Inside to Empathy” was born, and I began to blog my story in hope of educating people how to be a better help and support. As I blogged, I ended up hitting a wall. In opening up and being so vulnerable about my life, my PTSD symptoms started to surface again. I had to take a break from blogging and just focus on healing. I ended up hiring a personal mentor who specialized in overcoming the struggles I was having and I am still working with her.
While opening up and blogging, I fell in love with the LDS Family Services 12 step program.  I was going to group on a regular basis and actually visited my past experiences while going through it and found additional healing there.  Not only that, I started studying in depth the Spouse and Family program put out by LDS Family Services.  I have such a strong testimony of this program and love the podcasts that are available to listen to. I have experienced some amazing healing experiences as I have been focusing on my recovery. As I studied the LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program, I felt so close to my Savior. I recognize daily that there isn’t anything I have or currently experiencing that my Savior hasn’t felt first.  
I also fell in love with the books, “Strengthening the Family” and “Strengthening Marriage”. These were also put out by LDS Family Services and have a lot of clinical work in them. Between all my training as a mentor, my favorite reads, including “Overcoming Codependency” by Douglas Dobberfuhl, I have found so much help and healing. This last book mentioned helped me understand the gospel perspective of Codependency and helped understand how to work the 12 step program in a more spiritual sense. It is here, that I learned for the first time that codependency is actually the opposite of Charity, the pure love of Christ.
This last General Conference, after listening to the men’s session, I began to start praying for Charity.  As I have started doing this, the spirit has been tutoring me. My heart is changing in ways I have longed for, for many years. I truly have a testimony that a study of the gospel will change behavior quicker than a study of behavior will. I have witnessed this personally in my life repeatedly.
With my love of the gospel and the Church’s inspired programs I found myself desiring to become an ARP missionary.  A few weeks later, my husband and I were called into the Stake President’s office and were called to be ARP Missionaries.  We absolutely love this calling and have such a strong testimony of the program.  I testify that the Savior is truly the master physician to recovery. I love the people we work with and am looking forward to seeing the miracles of the Savior unfold in their lives like it has in ours. This call has added so much healing and strength to our marriage.
I have learned that sometimes the answer is to leave a companion, but most often the answer is to stay. This is a personal decision that must be made prayerfully. I have received both answers in my life time. My own experience with addiction from my youth has given me a perspective that has blessed me in being able to extend empathy to those who struggle and relapse. I get it.  I owe everything to my Savior Jesus Christ. Without Him, I would not be who I am today.

Monday, February 26, 2018

You are invited to my B-Day party!

Come join us to help shape other women's futures: Saturday, March 17th from 6:30-7:30 pm at the Diversity Dance of Utah dance studio.  The owner is so kind to donate the use of her beautiful building for this event.  No gifts please!  Just COME and bring your wonderful self!!!
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