Tag Archives: Divorce

Forward with Faith…or The Plague of the 3 Ds

Note: This post was originally written as an adaptation to a talk (sermon) that I gave early this year.

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On New Year’s Eve my husband and I stood on our front porch at the stroke of midnight listening to the laughter and festivities taking place on our street. “Here’s to a better year,” he said. To which I replied, “Surely it can only get better from here?”

You see, this past year was marked by the three Ds that have plagued our marriage for all of its three and half years. Death, disease and disappointment seem to have been the hallmark of our marriage. Last month was no exception. Among the three deaths that affected me in December was one of my brightest students that I taught last year on the Cree Indian Reservation where I worked in northern Manitoba. Not technically diseases, but certainly health issues abounded. Between a bad fall, kidney stones, and a dog attack, things were not pleasant. And this Christmas we were supposed to spend the holidays with my family in Newfoundland, which I was dearly looking forward to, as was my three year old nephew whom I miss dreadfully.

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised by the trials we endured in December, and in a way, we weren’t. Those of you who don’t know us very well could think that I was over-exaggerating when I said that our marriage has been plagued by those three Ds. It started the week before our marriage, actually, when a sewage flood in the apartment I was renting ruined nearly everything for the wedding, followed by the loss of 300 report card files that had to be redone, 12 hours of hair care, and a day in the hospital due to kidney stones.

Then we got married.

Since then I have lost my grandmother and other relatives, several friends, and many former students, most of them to suicide; I have had health issues with every major organ in my body; my step-daughter has had ongoing issues with her ears and other problems resulting from the illness of her mother and her subsequent moving halfway across the country; some of our relatives shunned us for a whole year because we asked them to watch a Christmas Devotional with us; my old van literally blew up in the driveway; my replacement vehicle was stolen and ended up costing about $10 000 in repairs over the course of the year as a result; my husband’s car was broken into when he met me in Montreal for our immigration interviews; due to immigration laws and issues, we were separated for three and a half years, not the nine to fourteen months we had expected; our oldest daughter ran away from home two years ago and hasn’t spoken to any of us since. And this is the shortened list.

When such things occur, it is human nature to wonder why these trials and tribulations happen. Why me? is a popular refrain amongst those suffering intense adversity. Perhaps the better question is: Why not me? Understanding why such things occur in our lives is a key step toward being able to move forward with faith.

W. N. Partridge in his book entitled ‘All These Things Gain Us Experience’ gives us five reasons why we have afflictions.

First, punishment is one reason that we have trials. Indeed, it is human nature to assume that our trials are punishment for some misdeed we have committed. But this is not always so. We turn to various means to attempt to make sense of what is happening to us.

Falling to our knees in prayer is one way we attempt to make sense of the things that are happening in our lives. Our cries of woe are further reinforced in our minds when we feel that our prayers for relief have gone unanswered. But Richard G. Scott teaches us that, “It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately…. When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. When He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.”

When we look to the scriptures for answers, we fall upon passages such as that of Lot’s wife, who through disobedience to God’s commandments was turned into a pillar of salt. But, as Partridge explains, “Lot’s wife…wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before she was past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her…. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly…. To yearn to go back to a world that cannot be lived in now, to be perennially dissatisfied with present circumstances and have only dismal views of the future, and to miss the here and now and tomorrow because we are so trapped in the there and then and yesterday are some of the sins of Lot’s wife.”

Are we like Lot’s wife, holding on to the familiar yet discordant past in fear of what is to come? When we feel we are being punished for some misdeed, it is easy to wallow in self-pity and guilt, to maintain the status quo. As much as we do not like what is happening, some small part of us thinks that we must deserve to be punished, or that, as the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Moving forward is difficult in the best of times; moving forward with faith in times of trial, to exchange a known way of being that we can bear, regardless of how terrible the experience is, for perhaps an unknown trial that we cannot, is a frightening prospect.

But, we cannot remain stagnant and expect to grow as an individual, as a family, as a community, or as a nation. One of the purposes of punishment is to help us effect a change for the better in our lives, to be more obedient to the will of the Lord, to strive to better those around us through service. Lot and his daughters learned a hard lesson that day about the consequences of disobedience, just as the inhabitants of the earth did when they failed to listen to Noah‘s voice and the rains started to fall, and the Nephites who became slaves to the Lamanites after the martyrdom of Abinadi. They knew they had done wrong, as the scriptures record that “they did cry mightily to God…that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.”

So it is with us.  As we learn the lessons of obedience, we, too, can have our afflictions lessened as we go forward with faith.

A second reason that we are given afflictions is to help us remember our duty. Affliction is not limited to people of my faith. Indeed, anyone who believes in God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, have taken upon themselves certain duties when they become believers. When we became members of this Church, we took upon ourselves many duties – to obey the commandments, pray daily, read scriptures, bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, accept callings….the list goes on. Afflictions help us to remember those duties, for if we do not remember them, we begin to forget God, and Satan creeps into our lives.

This is what happened to Lehi and his family in Mosiah 1:17. “Therefore, as they were unfaithful they did not prosper nor progress in their journey, but were driven back, and incurred the displeasure of God upon them; and therefore they were smitten with famine and sore afflictions, to stir them up in the remembrance of their duty.” Lehi had been wandering for eight years in the desert, forgot God, and was afflicted. Not just afflicted, mind you, but SORE afflicted.

In the Doctrine and Covenants 121 we read of Joseph Smith’s pleas to Heavenly Father while in Liberty Jail: O God,  where art thou? In Section 122, we read the Lord’s response to those pleas, wherein He asks fifteen questions of Joseph, ending with the phrase, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee  experience, and shall be for thy good.”

When we have afflictions and honestly feel that we have not done anything to warrant such punishment, we should ask ourselves if we are remembering our duty to God. To move forward with faith through such trials, we must fulfill all of our responsibilities, magnify our callings, pay a full tithe and a generous fast offering, keep the Sabbath Day holy, obey the commandments, do our visiting and home teaching, support our leaders, fellowship with other members, follow the counsel of the prophets, and live up to our roles as parents. In the midst of affliction it is easy to let these things fall to the wayside. The harder path is to move forward with faith by striving to do each of these things more perfectly.

A third reason that we have afflictions is so that we can be an example for others. Seeing how others overcome afflictions in their lives can help us to move forward with faith when we are faced with our own afflictions. In Alma 17:11 the Lord says to the four sons of Mosiah as they are starting their fourteen year mission among the Lamanites that, “…ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me…” Can you imagine how those young men must have felt knowing that they were about to have fourteen years of afflictions? And yet, they moved forward with faith, because they had been promised that if they bore their afflictions they would have much success.

Oftimes we are not being afflicted because of wickedness or because we have forgotten God in our daily lives. Health problems, unemployment, family crisis, death, financial issues, natural disasters come to both the unrighteous and the righteous. When righteous individuals are afflicted in such ways, it is to show that even in the midst of trials those who know God can be examples of hope to those around them by going forward with faith.

Although not a member of our church, my husband’s Aunt Anne, who has been afflicted with a very painful condition her entire adult life, is a wonderful example for my family. Despite her condition, she is one of the brightest, most cheerful people you could ever meet. And when her only daughter and son-in-law asked her if they would consider moving closer to them, the first thing Aunt Anne did was to go to her knees in prayer, not once, but several times.  She received the answer that she and Uncle Hal needed to move to be near their only child. They immediately flew halfway across the country, chose a home site, contracted a builder, and put their home up for sale. The amazing thing about this, however, is not that she prayed and acted upon the response she received. The amazing thing is that her daughter lives in Oklahoma City. In fact, when the big tornado was sweeping through the community, cousin Amy’s home was in its direct path. She went to the safest part of their home and prayed fervently that her home would be spared and her husband would make it home safely. And…the tornado changed direction at the beginning of her street. Amy’s house sustained little damage – the worst was a section of fence that fell down. But less than a quarter of a mile away, complete destruction reigned. Whole neighbourhoods gone, with just foundations showing where homes once stood. And it was in the midst of this chaos that Aunt Anne and Uncle Hal decided to follow the Lord’s prompting to give up all they had worked their entire lives to build, to leave behind friends and activities and the very comfortable life they had made for themselves in their retirement, and to move forward with faith to begin again.

A fourth reason that we have afflictions is to prepare us for something that we need to learn.

When I was growing up I was an active member of my Protestant church. When I became pregnant at age eighteen, my entire family was devastated. My minister told me that if I did not get married, my child would be “a sin and an abomination.” I remember looking at her, and with a sinking heart, telling her that if that is what her church believed, then I could no longer be a member of that church. I spent the next several years raising my daughter, while going to university full-time, taking extra classes, and working anywhere between four to seven part-time jobs. My parents or brother would fly the 900 miles to the province I was living in to pick my daughter up during exam periods so that I could have time to study, but the rest of the time, I was largely on my own with her while at university.

It was during this time that I began my search for a church that I could believe in. I knew that I was not an atheist or agnostic – I knew that God exists. I read everything that I could find about every other religion I had ever heard about, talked to ecclesiastical leaders from any number of congregations, searched online. In every religion I found truths, but there was always something that told me that each one was not quite right for me.

One night I saw an ad for a free Book of Mormon on television, and gave the number a call. I spent six years reading, studying, talking to missionaries, and going to church before I was baptized. To make it clear how active I was in this Church before my baptism, I had one brother exclaim, “You’re not baptized? I thought you must have been born in the Church! Well, that explains why I could never figure out why you didn’t have a calling!”

My experiences as a pregnant teenager and unwed mother were very difficult to go through, but they prepared me to go forward with faith to find the true church, and as a result, my husband and step-daughter.

Finally, sometimes we are given trials to test our patience and faith. In Abraham 3:25 we are told that we should expect lots of trials and adversity. Christ says in that verse that “…we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” A modern-day definition of the word ‘prove’ means to determine quality through tests. But the archaic meaning of the word makes our purpose here on earth even clearer. It means to find out or learn something through experience. How do we gain that experience? Through trials and tribulations, adversity and afflictions.

After I joined the church, I, like many others I suppose, had this naive idea that things could only get better. I quickly found a suitable spouse, and after a short period of time, we were married in the temple. Since it took me six years to be baptized, I’m sure you can appreciate that I rarely do things on a whim, but rather study them out and choose the best option. Getting married was no different. On seven different occasions I prayed about it, and each time was prompted to pick up the nearest scriptures and open them at random. I picked up seven different scriptures – at home and in the temple, hard bound and soft bound, triples and quads, old and new – and each time I opened the scriptures, I found myself reading Doc. and Cov. 104:51, which reads, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation.” I figured, hey! this must be a sign, right? Seven different scriptures all telling me the same thing?

So imagine my dismay when things rapidly went downhill. As in, we walked out of the temple, into the chapel, and things start to go wrong. The diamonds fell out of my wedding band. I spent most of the reception in the bathroom being violently ill. My new father-in-law kept referring to his son as the ‘gloom’ instead of the groom. Long story short, the marriage didn’t last long and my husband was eventually excommunicated.

Fast forward about a year and a half. I was living a scant five minutes from the temple, and I spent a lot of time there because I knew for certain that that was the one place that my ex would not be. I prayed day after day in the temple for an answer as to why these things had happened when I felt so sure that I was supposed to marry this guy.

One February day I was sitting in the chapel inside the temple, praying about this matter and pondering again on that scripture…”And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation”… when I heard as clear as a bell, a voice say to me, “What comes next?”

I had never thought to continue reading that verse. I picked up the nearest scriptures and read the following, “And this I have commanded to be done for your salvation, The covenants being broken through transgression, by covetousness and feigned words—  Therefore, you are dissolved as a united order with your brethren, that you are not bound only up to this hour unto them.” Well, I thought, that is pretty clear. The covenants had been broken, through transgression, covetousness, and lies, we were divorced or not bound to each other any longer, and he had been given the opportunity to seek salvation through repentance.

I was telling this story to my Stake President one day a few months later, and he, knowing everything that had happened in that marriage, commented, “I do not understand why you are still a member. I have known countless people who have left the church over far less than what you have experienced.” My reply? “Where else can I go? I believe the Book of Mormon is scripture. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet. I have a strong testimony in the sealing ordinances of our temples. There is no other place for me to go.”

My patience and faith were sorely tried during this time of my life, but I also know that the scriptures give us this promise: “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me….And I will…ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders…” (Mosiah 24:13-14). The only sure thing to do in times of hardship is to go forward with faith, believing that God will ease our burdens.

Here is the thing about afflictions – the difficulty of the trial depends upon the individual and the circumstances that cause the affliction. And what passes as an affliction for one person, could be a great blessing for another. Take, for example, a heavy rain after a season of drought. For the couple hosting a backyard barbeque, this rain is certainly not a blessing. But for the farmer, this same rain will save his crop and allow him to provide for his family. If we learn to approach our understanding of our trials by looking for the blessings found therein, we can move forward in faith.

Those 3 Ds of Death, Disease, and Disappointment that I mentioned had plagued our marriage? All blessings in disguise.

If I had not had the opportunity to care for my grandmother for several hours each day in the pain-filled months preceding her death, I would not have had the opportunity to bear to her my testimony. I would not have had the opportunity to have her say to me, “You know, perhaps that’s what I believe, too.”

If I had not had all those health issues, I doubt that our marriage would have lasted. For example, in our first year of marriage we expected that we would be able to spend about six weeks that summer together, and perhaps one or two other weeks throughout the year. As a result of my illnesses, we actually spent close to seven months together in that first year.

As Doctrine and Covenants  122:9 tells us, “…fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” This promise, given to Joseph as he lay languishing in Liberty Jail, holds true for us as well.  If we bear our afflictions well, we, too, can move forward with faith with the sure knowledge that God will be with us forever and ever.

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Lovebirds

Yesterday I was walking my three dogs in the wee hours of the morning. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a blurred greyish fluttering, and turned to see what had caught my attention. I watched in amazement as I saw for the first time ever the mating ritual of the common red robin. I watched in rapt fascination as the two joined beaks, touched their wings together, flew a couple of feet straight into the air, spiraled downwards, and repeated the whole sequence several times before the female lay on her back and was mounted by the male for a brief second, beaks still joined. According to Birdhouses101.com, “it is said to be a simple and short ritual that a person would be very lucky to observe it.”

Robins are not the only species of bird to have beautiful or complex mating rituals. Many bird species engage in elaborate visual and auditory displays – intricate dances, elaborate songs, spectacular flights – to woo prospective mates. (If you would like to see some examples, you may find this site and this site interesting.) While a few species, such as the hummingbird, tend to “love ’em and leave ’em”, it has been suggested that 90% of paired birds are monogamous, and that many species – including Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Pileated Woodpeckers, Barn Owls, Blue Jays, and yes, the lowly robin – form pair bonds that last for several seasons or until one dies.

Perhaps the most well known of these pair-bonding birds is the lovebird, a small African parrot that is social, affectionate and monogamous. Pairs spend long periods of time just sitting together, and develop long-term relationships with each other and their owners, enjoying a good snuggle and gentle handling. In return, they participate in preening rituals with their owners.

In some ways, people are like birds. We engage in these elaborate dating rituals designed to attract and impress. It was not so long ago that humans meant for these rituals to become a life-bond – ” ’til death do us part”. But now? 41% of first marriages end in divorce…as well as 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages. Instead of becoming a permanent bond between two people that unites two extended families into one, marriage has become just another disposable part of our instant-gratification world. With the average wedding now costing $30 000, one cannot help but wonder if the trend towards showier nuptials is a misguided attempt to openly declare that *this* marriage will be different, this marriage will last.

My parents will be celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary this year. My mother’s parents were married for more than 50 years before my grandfather died. And elderly friends of mine were married for 63 years before they died within nine months of each other. None of those marriages were marked by extravagant shows of wealth. But they *were* marked by a constant nourishment, a frequent sitting together and snuggling, and a commitment to each other. My father met my mother on the night that his father was buried. My grandparents grew up as friends. And my elderly friends? Well, their story deserves a little more room….

I hope I remember all the details. It’s been a few years since she told me this story as I stayed with her while her husband was having surgery. It seems that one day he awoke and decided it was time for him to get married. So he went to his town square, where he sat all day and watched as everyone walked by. At the end of the day he decided that he did not want to marry anyone from his town, and the next morning rode his bike to another town nearby, where he again sat in the town square. As he watched the people go by, one girl caught his eye. He approached her, introduced himself, and said, “I am going to marry you.” She said, “Oh, you think so? Well, we’ll see about that!” And a couple of weeks later they were married.

This was not unusual. The current leader of my church first saw his wife while he was attending a dance with another girl, commented to her that *there* was the girl he was going to marry, and he did.

Each of these couples were/are committed to each other. The scriptures say, “Thou shalt love thy [spouse] with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto [him or] her and none else” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:22). They do not say, “Thou shalt love thy spouse 50% and s/he will love you 50% and that makes 100%.” Marriage is not a 50/50 proposition – it’s 100/100.

A lasting marriage takes being 100% committed to each other. It doesn’t take being the most beautiful or the most showy. It takes gentleness, companionship, affection.

Don’t be a hummingbird. Be a robin. Be a lovebird.

 

The Kind of Guy My Husband Is

Shortly before I left Pennsylvania my husband and I were working on a project late one evening. We had come to a part that I could do on my own, and he declared that he thought he should lie down for awhile, not to go to bed but just to rest. An hour or so later, I woke him so that he could complete his portion of the project.

By the time he had finished, he was exhausted. I commented that he looked very tired and that he should go to bed. He was reluctant to do so – there were so many things he could be doing. I replied that he was obviously tired and needed to rest. He began to state that he didn’t know why he was so tired when a light of sudden realization came to him – he had given a blessing that day. “Actually, two blessings,” I smiled. He pondered that for a moment, having forgotten momentarily about the blessing he had given me that morning before my last medical procedure, before commenting that he always felt drained after giving a blessing, so two blessings had literally wiped him out.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy that shows up at work to find a member of his previous ward waiting patiently outside his office, hoping that my husband would consent to give him a blessing. There are dozens of other men this brother could have called upon for a blessing, several of whom who would have gone to his house if given a phone call, causing little disruption to his day. Instead, he chose to sit outside my husband’s office and wait just in case he showed up. Why? Because he knew from personal experience that my husband takes his priesthood responsibilities seriously.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who for seventeen years stayed in a marriage where his wife told him outright that she did not love him and under no circumstances wanted any more children. He stayed in that marriage until counselled by those in authority that this was an untenable situation. Even then, he left that ultimate decision up to her. Then, in an effort to ensure that his ex-wife had every opportunity to get her life together and be able to provide for her and their daughter, not only paid off her credit card balance of thousands of dollars but paid 111% more child support than he should have over a two year period. That’s right – 111% more than he should have. In other words, more than double. He even paid a little extra every month because the leaders of our church have encouraged fathers to be generous with child support payments. It was only when he became responsible for a new family that he sought to change these obligations. Why? Because it was in his daughter’s best interest that her mother be afforded every opportunity to find work, get her life together and learn to be a good mother to their daughter, and because he took very seriously the sacred covenants he had made with her and with Heavenly Father when they knelt across the altar in the holy temple.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who worries that he will not be able to be much of a father figure for his new eighteen year old step-daughter. He knows that her experiences of fatherhood both in and out of the church have been less than ideal. He knows that he cannot undo years of hurt and disappointment by others. He knows that now that she is an adult there will be few opportunities for her to experience a loving Latter-day Saint home with parents who work together to support each other and raise their children in righteousness. But he does what he can, inviting her for family prayer and family scripture study, calling her just to chat about things the two of them have in common, sending her interesting news tidbits via email. Why? Because he doesn’t want that branch of our family line to dwindle in unbelief, and he knows how much it means to me that he does these things.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who even before our marriage started showing how much he cares for me by staying with me in the hospital most of the day before our wedding, who immediately added me to his health care benefits as soon as we were married, who made arrangements for me to see doctors this summer and have treatments that would have taken months and months to have performed at home. Even when medication and pain turned me into an ogre he was right there next to me, tending to my every need, and doing little things to cheer me up. Were there rough patches in those first two months? Of course. But he stood by me and stuck with me. Why? Because husbands take care of their wives no matter what.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who takes his spirituality very seriously. So, having decided at age sixteen that he wanted to join our church he respected his parents’ wishes that he wait a little while before doing so, but continued to attend and learn and study. Once baptized, he served a mission where he was made a zone leader because of his abilities. And then, about ten years ago, was appointed president of a small branch overseas where his leadership resulted in a six hundred and fifty percent increase in members. Why? Because once he takes responsibility for something, he sticks with it until he has done the very best he can to fulfil his responsibilities pleasingly and faithfully.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who goes all out in everything he does. It wasn’t enough to write a normal term paper like everyone else in university – he had to write a one hundred fifty page paper on an undeciphered script, which eventually became a major thesis paper that, over the past twenty years or so, has led to major developments in discovering the secrets of this forgotten language. It wasn’t enough to have an intense interest in economics and politics and history – he had to become a writer for a magazine that has published over one hundred eighty of his articles. It wasn’t enough to have a passing interest in beetles – he and his best friend decided to pool their respective collections to form a lending library of the over thirty thousand specimens that the two of them have collected over the years from around the world. Why? Because he knows that the glory of God is intelligence, and the best way to improve one’s intellectual ability is to share it with others.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who seeks not after recognition, preferring instead to be a slightly eccentric nobody. You won’t find his name on many of the articles he has written. You won’t find his name on a fantasy trilogy that he worked on for five years. You won’t find him doing book signings for the non-fiction books he has written. Why? Because he doesn’t want any of the immoral trappings that often come with fame and fortune.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who, having learned just how dysfunctional my previous relationships have been, told me that he thought I had never truly been honoured as a daughter of God, and wanted to be different from every other guy. Hence, while we did hold hands and give quick hugs before we were married, our first kiss was during out wedding ceremony in my parents’ backyard, with our children and parents and other loved ones watching. What a wonderful gift we were able to give our children in a world that worships immorality –the knowledge that our love was pure and chaste until we were husband and wife. Why? Because he knew that no one else in my life has treated me with such respect.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is.

He’s the kind of guy who in his wedding vows promised to uphold his sacred duties as the priesthood holder in our home by presiding over our family in love and righteousness, providing the necessities of life, and protecting our family. He takes these responsibilities very seriously, always trying to better himself, giving me his encouragement in everything I do, working hard to provide for his daughter and for our future, going without so that his loved ones lack for nothing, and taking martial arts. Why? Because for him there is nothing more important than ensuring his family is well-cared for and safe.

Because of the kind of guy my husband is, I had no qualms whatsoever taking him as my lawful wedded husband after a brief courtship, to have and to hold from that day forward as one who honours his priesthood and carries out his responsibilities pleasingly and faithfully. Because of the kind of guy my husband is, I trust him with all my heart and with all my mind. I look forward to the day when we can be sealed together for time and for all eternity in the holy temple. I know he longs for that day to come, too.

You see, that’s the kind of guy my husband is. And I love him for it.