Endless Forgiveness

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Forgiveness cannot be boxed.
It is not a one-time event, not a "come to Jesus" talk or a single heartfelt prayer. It is not eye-for-an-eye, with more forgiveness for heavier sins and less for minor slights and "whoopsies". To think of it this way limits its effectiveness and boxes its power.
I often hear people say "When I think of the Atonement, I am humbled to think of how many drops of blood were spilled for me." Though this is a powerful way of thinking of the saving grace of Christ, it is still limiting. I do not think of how many drops of blood were spilled. Its like trying to count the stars or all the leaves of the forest. Even my highest counts will miss the leaves on the grass beneath the trees or the glimmers of light deeper in space than NASA has discovered yet. Counting is quantifying and quantifying means it ends somewhere.
Is there an end to love?

The key to forgiveness is availability. When forgiveness is open to every person, every sin, every time, it changes the approach. An all-inclusive, open attitude transforms the roots of the repentance process from fear to humility and hope. The focus shifts from me and my sins, my limitations, and doubts to Christ and His love.
Change the conversation about forgiveness. Acceptance of mortality and permission to keep coming back and trying is essential to progress. Forgiveness is an ongoing event - it is in every day, in every sunrise and the soft hum of a beating heart. It is as available as the air we breathe.
Don't hold your breath and the noses of others. The peace you are looking for is already here.
Inhale. There is enough time to try again. There is plenty of room for you here.
Exhale. Repeat. Believe.

Love is the antidote to the pride cycle

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I recently read Brene Brown's book I Thought It Was Just Me. I had listened to her TED talk online and the title on the library shelf called to me. It was an eye-opening look into her research on shame. She shared many anecdotal experiences from her studies and personal life to showcase the different faces of shame and how it presents in marriage, careers, friendships, parenting, and basically all facets of interpersonal relationships.

It was a week after finishing her book that I saw that the next lesson being taught in church was on pride. I had some free time the night before and decided on a very strange whim to study the lesson.
The lesson was on a conference talk given by a prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Ezra Taft Benson. In his speech, he warns church members against the dangers of pride. The three things that he says defines pride are "hatred, hostility toward, and opposition to God or fellow man." The lesson breaks it down further to highlight all the ways pride can present itself.
Pride is such a sneaky, silent sin. In my study, I started creating a table of pride vs. humility. "What does pride look like, sound like, act like?" I wondered the same about humility. I searched my scriptures and started writing down all the references I could find.
I was so consumed in my compare-contrast brainwave that, had I not had Brene Brown's book still laying fresh on my mental examination table, I would have missed a very eye-opening  verse.
Proverbs 11:2 says
When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.
In my mind I was thinking "Wait! There is something here! There is pride. There is shame. It looks like they go together."
A little jolt of excitement and understanding zapped me. Suddenly, I saw the whole picture. If shame is as widespread as Brene Brown's research data shows its safe to say that everyone has or will experience it at some point. Brown defines shame as "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." It makes sense then that if shame has been experienced, it leaves a sense of want of love and belonging. Shame creates a hole inside that begs to be filled with something - anything.
Introspection ensued. What fills my empty places created by shame? What are my true motives behind my every action?
I want to belong. How badly do I want to belong that I believe that I belong above someone else? I want to be loved. How much do I need that love that I believe I am loved more than the next person? I want to be more. I don't want to be less. If I am less it means there is something about me that is flawed and unworthy. That shame creates a deeper need for love and acceptance. The deeper the shame, the bigger the pride to make up for the deficit.
Shame is silent and pervasive. I think that is what makes pride such a difficult thing to acknowledge and talk about. The more I thought about it, I realized that I have pride because I have shame, and I am ashamed that I have pride.
Pride and shame create separation. Pride puts us above others, thinking we are better, justified in our hatred and hostility, higher in purpose and deserving of recognition. Shame keeps us isolated, convinced of unworthiness because of who we are as a person. It is a cycle of highs and lows and each feeds the other. Shame and pride separate us from our friends, family, community, and God. I think Satan would call that a win.
The antidote to pride is humility. The solution to shame is connection. This is where the bigger picture presents itself.
Nearly all the scriptural references I found relating to humility included some sense of connection and togetherness.
Humility teaches:
  • goodness is available to all, none are forbidden (2 Nephi 26:28)
  • all men are privileged the one like unto the other (2 Nephi 26:28)
  • to have charity (2 Nephi 26:30)
  • to work for the good of all (2 Nephi 26: 31)
  • to invite (2 Nephi 26:33)
  • to deny none (2 Nephi 26:33)
  • to lift others
  • to ask for what you need (Alma 7:23)
  • to give thanks (Alma 7:23)
Humility is inclusion. It is togetherness, of being part of a relationship with someone else. It is a sense of belonging, of sameness and collective elevation.There is no humility alone. The ability to develop and define humility depends on learning to love others.
What became very apparent to me while studying this is the way God works directly against pride and shame. God provides all the connection we need to defeat pride and shame. The scriptures are littered with countless assurances of God's love for his children, our place with him, and the lengths to which he will go to ensure that we can feel that love always.
Pride is created by shame. The solution to shame is connection. Connection brings humility. Humility defeats pride. To be humble is to reinforce the first, most precious and sacred connection to the Divine in self and others.  This is how the cycle is broken - by the warmth and confidence in the thread that runs through and connects us all to Love.

Children Are Not Blessings

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Am I the only one who feels like everyone is pregnant?
Maybe its just me. I've been in the middle of a beautiful group of friends who all just happen to be pregnant at the same time. The sad new is that any pregnancy announcement has the potential to pierce my tender heart. What's my deal? It doesn't even apply to me. Why should other people's babies get my stomach in knots?
Its a long story that is summed up in one acronym. TTC. Traditionally it stands for "Trying To Conceive", but in my case its "Trouble To Conceive". My husband and I have begun our journey to baby number two. The path we walked to get pregnant with our first child was long and filled with pain and we are running into many of the same problems this time around. So yeah, pregnancy announcements are pretty potent stuff to me right now.
There has been a massive uptick in the pregnancies of my friends. As badly as I want to be immune to the negativity that brews inside me with every announcement, it was getting harder with each new pregnancy to handle the constant barrage of painful reminders. I wrote a very angry, hurtful, and hateful piece about infertility. I almost posted it here. I'm really glad I didn't because once something is on the internet it never goes away. I don't want that kind of sticky hate following me around.
By some freaky coincidence a friend of mine shared her big news of her first pregnancy with me the night after I almost pressed "post" on my rant. When the announcement came I was waiting for the secret bitterness, for the creeping sadness, for the little injection of jealousy to puncture my heart. I waited, then waited some more. It never came. Instead, I felt such a surge of ecstatic joy that I could not contain it. I stood up from my seat so fast that my craft I was working on flew off my lap and fell apart on the floor and I didn't even care. I couldn't think straight so I just repeated the same thing over and over like a crazy person.
"Are you serious?"
"Are you serious?! Are you kidding me? Are you completely serious?"
"Yes, I'm totally serious," she said.
The light coming out from her smile was so contagious I could feel tangible joy and peace coming from her. A ton of words I never thought I would say after I wrote that hateful piece the night before came flooding out of my mouth.
"I can't believe it! Are you serious? This is absolutely amazing! I am so happy for you! This is the best news I've heard all day! Seriously, this is the best thing ever! I am so excited for you guys! I am totally serious. I am so happy right now!"
This continued on for a good two minutes. All everyone could do was look at each other, smile, and laugh at the joy of it all. I gave my friend the best, most well-meaning overjoyed hug I have given anyone in a long time. I almost cried happy tears. Seriously.
I continued to wait for the depressed, angry switch to turn on inside me for the rest of the night. It never did.
I was in the shower the next morning soaping up my hair mulling over that sweet experience and a strange thought struck me.
Children are not blessings.
Is that not the weirdest thing? People talk about their kids being the greatest blessings all the time. Blah blah, God has blessed me with a child, blah blah. Our family is so incredibly blessed. We were blessed with seven kids. Children are a gift from God blah blah blah. I get sick of hearing it.
The reality is that children are a responsibility. Babies are not gifts that arrive on my doorstep that I get to decide to keep or not. They are not signs of God's trust in me as a great potential parent. Children are not blessings that are given to me because I am an awesome person and have done all the right things in life. When the opportunity to bring a child into the world by birth of body or heart is presented, it is not a blessing. Its a calling. The blessings come from raising children responsibly.
Think about it. Am I, as a human being, a blessing? I don't feel like a blessing at all. But I do feel like I bless others. I bless them through my kindness, my service, and sometimes even by the challenges I present to them. My daughter is not a blessing. Through her sweet demeanor, her morning kisses followed by an "All better" she brings a tenderness to my life where there was emptiness before. By drawing on the apartment walls and spilling the lentils on the floor during dinner she blesses me with learning and patience.
She isn't my blessing or a promise from the Lord of His love for me. She is not even mine. She is God's.
He believes I am capable to persuade, guide, teach, and love her the way she needs to be for right now. But I can't claim her. She is her own person, a future adult in a half-size body. She is my call to action. By the very action of conceiving her, I gave my consent to take on the responsibility of caring for another person. She is not a blessing. She is a responsibility I willingly opened my heart and life to.
This experience of my friend's pregnancy announcement has been a blessing to me. It has taught me that I am not waiting on a blessing. I am waiting on another person on their own special timetable who needs me. I would not expect a fellow adult to allow me into their life until they were ready to open themselves to a relationship. I can't anticipate it would be different for a child. I cannot force, push, plead, cry, whine, complain, hate, or depress myself into a relationship with anyone, especially not my second child.
Does that mean this journey to baby number two will be easy for me? Probably not. I mean, I hope it is, but its still early and my anxiety anticipates the worst. I will probably still hope and cry, still share and vent, still thank and plead. There will be moments of torment and moments of peace but my perspective has changed. Unlike last time, when my experience of waiting for a child was riddled with confusion, depression, and bitterness, this time I will keep my eyes and heart on my blessings.
I have the courage to let my heart soften and turn towards peace in the midst of discomfort.
I have the grace to look my reality in the face and smile.
I am determined to grow my faith bigger than my fears.
I have the confidence to share my difficult experiences with others.
I am grateful for the tender mercies of friends sharing pregnancy announcements in perfect time.
© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.