Sunday, May 22, 2016

Maintaining Faith in Light of Homosexuality


Picture and post contributed by Sarah

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” 
Isaiah 40:3

"I’ve been thinking a lot recently about faith and fear. One of my biggest fears is heights. A fear that I've had to face and overcome quickly during the fire academy. A few months ago we learned how to bail out a window using just a single rope. To do this, you have to wrap the rope around you and get one leg up and over the window sill. Next you lean forward and start falling head first out the window until you can clear your other leg and turn yourself upright again. Needless to say, it was terrifying. In learning and practicing these things, I came to trust my equipment, my fellow firefighters, and myself. 

This trust didn’t take away my fear, but it gave me the strength to push through it anyway. 

Faith and trust in God doesn’t equate to the complete absence of fear. I think one of the most profound ways to show Heavenly Father my faith is by following Him in spite of my fears. It’s by coming to that window sill and telling Him; 'I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but I trust that you’re going to protect me as I do your will.'

By far, the hardest decision I’ve ever made is which path I wanted to be on with regards to my faith. I don’t profess to have the right answers for anyone else’s path, but in my life the times I have found true happiness were when I could kneel down at night and honestly tell my Heavenly Father that I had done my best to do what He wanted me to do that day. 

At times I have found myself paralyzed by thoughts of what the future holds and if it’s actually feasible to continue in my faith in light of my feelings of homosexuality. But I’ve found my faith grow deeper in those times of trusting God enough to move forward anyway despite not knowing.

That decision hasn’t been without its negatives. I have told Heavenly Father more than once; 'I don’t know what to do with this, but it makes my soul ache.' I made the choice to faithfully live my covenants, but that doesn’t take away my feelings. And it makes my very soul ache to think about what it truly means to not go down that path. I can truly identify with the pain many felt at the change in the church’s policy on homosexuality.

And in those times I really have to step back and say, I don’t know. I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if I’m going to survive jumping out of this window. But I have come to learn that I can trust my rope. I can trust my Heavenly Father. I have found my strength renewed time and time again by living the gospel. It has brought an indescribable peace to my soul that I wouldn’t trade for anything."

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Call for Input: LDS Women Who've Experienced Childhood Sexual Trauma

A dear friend of mine, Jessica Mockett, creator and director of The Heart of the Matter, is endeavoring to open a residential treatment center and boarding school for helping LDS young women who have been sexually traumatized or abused. She is looking for your stories! Please feel free to contribute by emailing Jessica at the address shown at the bottom of her letter.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 


I am very seriously pursuing the creation of a non-profit residential recovery home and boarding school for LDS girls ages 8-14 who have been sexually traumatized or abused. It’s a beautiful plan, full of amazing approaches to finding healing and developing tools for dealing with this trauma for the rest of life. I hope the endeavor will be blessed by God and become a reality soon.

Recently, I got a response from someone I’m networking with that he didn’t know anyone in the LDS community who personally struggled with this in their lives or in the lives of their children. I think it very likely I’ll run into this many times as I journey down this path. These stories are so often kept quiet in our community and you know me – I like to shine lights into the dark corners so that people can find a way to hope and healing.

I had a thought tonight that it might be good to gather several personal stories from LDS women who’ve experienced any sort of sexual abuse and trauma in their lives as a young girl or teen. This could be molestation, rape, being trafficked, coerced or forced into creating pornography, being bullied sexually by peers, becoming addicted to pornography, etc.

What I am hoping to have on hand from each of you willing to share is a brief understanding of the trauma you experienced, how that trauma was addressed by your parents (or if they knew about it at all), how growing up in the church impacted your feelings on your trauma, what lifelong struggles have you dealt with that you feel pinpoint back to that trauma, do you think there is value in helping girls as soon as possible after the trauma to learn to understand and cope with what they experienced, and what impact you think my program may have for good.

Not much to ask right? Bare your souls and heartaches? When I use these stories for helping me gain support I will respect your choice of being anonymous, changing your name, only using a first name, or your full name – whatever works for you.

Hope it feels right to help me with this.

Tenderly and respectfully, 

Jessica
jessica@girlwithacurl.com

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Meeting w/ My Area President: The Truth About Sex

Late last summer I had an extremely concerning experience with my Stake President. More can be read about that, here. In response, and in an effort to seek a resolution, I recently wrote a letter to the First Presidency, which can be found here. It took about a month and a half, but this past Sunday I received a call from my Bishop informing me that my Area President wanted to meet with me.

A subsequent meeting was arranged for 5:00PM that evening.

My husband went with me. He has lent his strong arm from the beginning of all this, by listening to me, supporting me and validating me. I really don't know how I could have managed without him.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

My Area President is a nice man. Very inviting, warm and comfortable. Although I was nervous to meet with him, I felt safe. We stood outside of the building with him for a while, because my Bishop had not yet arrived with the keys to let us in. He asked how we met, our jobs, our family. He made effort to get to know us and establish a connection.

Once settled in my Bishop's office, he let me know that the First Presidency had received, and personally reviewed my letter. He said that they took it very seriously and thus passed it down to a member of the Presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy, who also read my letter and then reached out to my Area President for more personal follow-up. When my Area President received the assignment to reach out to those involved, he was specifically asked to pass on the following message to me; "Tell Sister Agla that she is in our prayers."

There is something incredibly validating in that message alone. 

My Area President went on to express that he also had taken the time to review my letter, and had actually re-read it multiple times in an effort to understand where I was coming from and what I felt. Not only that, but he also spent a good amount of time researching the Church Handbook in an effort to prepare and educate himself on the topic.

He also mentioned that he'd already taken the time to meet with my Stake President and my Bishop, sharing the same of which he was about to share with me. He expressed that he wasn't there to take sides, correct, find fault or place blame, but to simply reiterate what he found in the Handbook.

It was at this point that he pulled out his iPad to share the two excerpts he had found that addressed my concern. Leaning forward so my husband and I could follow along, he began to read.

Found in section 21.4.4 of Handbook 2, located here.
"Married couples should also understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife."
Divinely 'approved.'
Not obligated.
Not required.
Not mandated.
Not requisitioned.
And not even commanded.

Sexual intimacy is not a have to, it's a get to.

No one else governs that choice.
No one else governs my body.

I have the right to say no if I feel unsafe or disconnected in any way.
I have the right to say no if I don't feel the Spirit, or if I feel my actions may offend the Spirit.
I even have the right to so no without a reason.
Most importantly, I have the right to have those boundaries honored.

The second excerpt that he read can be found in section 1.3.1 of Handbook 2, located here.
"The Lord has commanded husbands and wives to cleave to each other (see Genesis 2:24, D&C 42:22). In this commandment, the word cleave means to be completely devoted and faithful to someone. Married couples cleave to God and one another by serving and loving each other and by keeping covenants in complete fidelity to one another and to God (see D&C 25:13)."
Cleave does not mean 'have sex with,' but is an emotional and spiritual connection between two souls. My husband once said that we, as a society, tend to look at this sex/love/intimacy thing backwards. We think the more sex we have, the closer we will grow. However, the truth is quite contrary. The more we cleave unto one another, the closer we grow spiritually and emotionally; and the more safety and connection we nurture, the more we create an environment in which healthy sexuality will naturally develop. 

Even though my husband and I don't necessarily have sex all the time, that does not mean I don't cleave unto him.
In fact, I do.
I don't lust after other people like I used to.
I am physically and emotionally faithful to him.
I keep my covenants to him.
That is the essence of cleaving, and that is all the Lord requires.

My progress is my progress, and our progress is our progress, neither of which should be compared to the progress of others.
We are all individual.
We are all unique.
We are all progressing and growing and developing at different rates. 

My Area President also mentioned that "the First Presidency is not willing to step any further into sexual relations between husband and wife than what is stated in the Handbook." Ultimately, sexual connection between husband and wife is found at the most intimate and personal levels, and should never be dictated by the personal beliefs of church leaders. However, I feel that although this experience was painful, there was still purpose in it, for I have been granted the gift of empowerment through enlightenment. Now I know exactly how the church stands on this issue, regardless of what I may be told.

The beautiful, and somewhat surprising, thing about being made aware of these two excerpts from the Handbook is that I didn't actually feel validated by my Area President. In fact, other than what I have already expressed, his opinion didn't seem to sway in either direction. But, most importantly, I did feel validated by my Father in Heaven, because I know He inspired the words written therein. And I know He inspired my Area President to find them.

What my Area President shared with me only supported, validated and confirmed what I already knew to be true; that my value, and the value of us all, extends far beyond the function of our bodies.

I recognize that there is a chance that my Stake President will never change his view. The gospel is perfect, but its leaders are not. We find evidence of such throughout all of scripture. However, what makes one faithful is not in never making a mistake, but in the humility and accountability expressed after mistakes are made. That is the type of person I want to be and that is simply who I hope my Priesthood leaders will be. But, if for some reason they choose otherwise, well, it is in those moments that I will likely learn the most, if I let God teach me.

Gratefully, the Lord has instilled in me the ability to extend unconditional forgiveness, and I have since been released of all negative feelings surrounding this experience.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

For additional quotes from church leaders regarding sexual intimacy, visit my good friend over at Make My Burden Light, here.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letter to the First Presidency: The Purpose of Sex

Late last summer I had an extremely concerning experience with my Stake President. More can be read about that, here. In response, and in an effort to seek a resolution, I recently wrote the following letter to the First Presidency.

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February 18, 2016

Office of the First Presidency
47 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150

Dear Brethren:                                                         

I’m so sad that I even need to write a letter to express concerns regarding my Stake President. The things I am going to share are very personal and I very much wish to have this experience resolved already. However, the experience I am about to recount was entirely too painful to make an appointment to meet with him; risking it happening all over again, and he has not made any effort to reach out to me, either. I do want you to know, that although this experience was painful, I do have a sure testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that His plan of redemption has been fully restored to this earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Furthermore, I freely and fully sustain the power and authority of the Priesthood on this earth, as well as the keys that are held on my behalf. And, gratefully, I have never had any conflicts with any of my previous Priesthood leaders.

My husband and I make it a habit to nurture a good working relationship with our Priesthood leaders because for most of our lives we have both struggled with sexual addiction. Gratefully, almost seven years ago we both found recovery through the Church’s Addiction Recovery Program and since then—through incorporating many other recovery programs, practices and tools—we are now doing really well. Part of working our ‘program of recovery’ includes meeting with our Bishop regularly, and sometimes even our Stake President, for it has helped us maintain our sense of self-worth, feeling the love of the Savior, and has given us hope in our ability to complete and maintain spiritual goals. However, as well as we were doing in our individual personal recovery, we were having some difficulties in our marriage. So, around six months ago, we met with our Stake President as we already had been for quite some time. During this particular meeting, my husband and I met separately with him, me going first.

Our conversation started off well enough. I’d already established what I felt to be a good working relationship with him; trusting him enough to share some recent struggles that I’d had, both personally and with my husband. Toward the end of my recount of the recent events, he asked me how my husband was doing. I replied honestly, saying I felt he had been somewhat distant. It was after this question, and my subsequent answer, that I felt the energy in the room shift.

He then asked me how our marital sexual intimacy had been fairing. I was taken aback by the question, but because I’d previously had positive interactions with him, I answered honestly. I shared that considering the struggle I have with my own sexual addiction to pornography and masturbation, and striving to heal from the sexual abuse I have suffered at the hand of my husband, things weren't exactly great. I wasn't ready to be that physically vulnerable yet because I didn’t feel safe with him or trust him, so my husband and I had mutually agreed to slow things down sexually in an effort to focus on our emotional and spiritual connection. So things were progressing, even if slowly.

We sat a moment in silence, and then he looked me right in the eye and told me it is my responsibility to have sex with my husband. He told me that if I didn't, my husband would eventually stray, because men need sex. Stunned, I asked; "So you're saying it's my job to service my husband?" He hummed and hawed about my choice of terminology, but in the end, confirmed that yes, it's my job to provide sexual relief. I sat there in silence, my usual witty responses in just as much shock as I was.  

The conversation continued…

Stake President: ‘It even says it in the church handbook.’
Me, not believing him: ‘Where? I want to see it.’
Stake President: ‘Well, it says something like that, that one of the purposes of sex is to bring couples closer together.’
Me: ‘I know that one of the purposes of sex is to bring couples closer together, but don't you think after all that I have shared with you that there may be extenuating circumstances in my marriage?’
Stake President: ‘Well, the brethren also mention it in conference talks.’
Me: ‘Really? Who? I want to see that, too.’
Stake President: ‘Well, they don't just come out and say it. You have to read between the lines.’

By this time, a war had begun to rage within me. I felt torn because I have always trusted my Priesthood leaders; believing that they hold keys to guide me, but at the same time, everything in me resisted what he was saying. All of my recovery work, all of my learned ability to rely on the Lord and all of His personal revelation has led me to a very different understanding of my role as His beloved daughter. My belief is that it is not my responsibility, obligation, or purpose to sexually ‘satisfy’ my husband. And to have that distortion presented as truth to me by my Stake President felt really wrong. Not only that, but it deeply hurt me. I felt that he was not able to see my worth as I see my worth, as my Savior sees my worth. It is also my understanding that dictating the frequency of sexual contact between married couples does not fall under the stewardship or purview of Priesthood leadership.

Gratefully, through the sweet prompting of the Spirit, the right words were given to me in response to him in a clear and direct, yet respectful, way; "I'm sorry, but I don't agree. I don't feel God placed us here on this earth to be slave to our sexual drive, but to rely on our Savior in order to rise above it, and master it." He didn't seem to hear me though, and I was so hurt and offended by that point that I couldn’t really recover in that moment anyway, so I picked up my bag, rose, said I couldn't listen anymore, and left.

By the time I reached the outside doors to the building I had started to cry. By the time I reached the edge of the parking lot, I was overcome by racking sobs.

I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that my Stake President, the man that I'd already established so much trust in, this man of God that holds keys for me and is supposed to receive revelation for me, would actually say those things.

Due to the depths of my sexual addiction, I have spent most of my life feeling like a piece of meat, ripe for the taking. Since starting recovery from my addiction, I have fought these feelings, truly striving to see myself as the beautiful daughter of God that I am; divinely worthy, and valuable far beyond the function of my body. And then, somehow, my Stake President managed to strip me of all that work in a matter of moments. Listening to his words took me back to the time when my feelings of self-worth were so low that I thought prostituting myself was all I was good for. Gratefully, that flashback was but for a moment, because deep down I know that what he said isn’t true. My value does extend farther than the function of my body. This I know, because my Savior has born witness of it.

I also can’t help but think about others that his comments may affect. Not because of what he said directly to me, but because of the possibility his core belief has influenced them. At one point he also said to me that he has met with many men who struggle with sexual addiction, and many of them say the same thing; that they aren’t getting enough sex at home. Although sexual intimacy has a beautiful God-given purpose, those bound in sexual addiction are dictated by lust and carnal craving. There is nothing intimate, connective or loving about it. And here is their Stake President, justifying and rationalizing their lust addiction for them. And their poor wives, many of whom may leave his office actually believing that it’s their job to satiate their husbands sexual ‘needs.’ I just feel so incredibly sad for them; the men and the women both, for the toxicity of lust extends far beyond the reach of its host.

I’ve spent the last six months trying to ‘get over’ what my Stake President said to me. I did get to a point where I felt as though I’d moved passed it, until I attended Stake Conference a couple of weeks ago. It was there, faced with the conflict of sustaining my Stake President, that I knew I had to do something more to be free of the hurt and anger I still harbor. So I met with my Bishop. From him I learned that concerns with Stake Presidents are handled through The Office of the First Presidency. So here I am. Sharing my experience.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this very long-winded letter, and I am genuinely grateful for your personal attention to this very painful experience.

Sincerely,
Sidreis Agla


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 


It took about a month and a half, but this past Sunday I received a call from my bishop informing me that my Area President wanted to meet with me.

That experience can be found, here.



Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Sean Astin Miracle

image1.JPG

This past Friday I had the opportunity to attend the bi-annual Utah Valley University (UVU) Conference on Addiction. This year the keynote speaker was none other than Sean Astin... or Mikey, or Rudy or Special Agent Oso, or Samwise Gamgee, as well as a plethora of other characters he portrays.

Sean's presentation, or his narrative as he calls it, was nothing short of amazing. He was raw, thoughtful and funny. Mostly, he was vulnerable and real. He touched me on many different levels; invoking a wide spectrum of emotion, from laughter to compassion to empathy to tears.

But as much as he touched me, I think he touched the woman sitting next to me even more. His words managed to bring her a deep level of hope that she'd been lacking for upwards of two years.

The story began after I arrived at the conference, some 40 minutes early.
...after I carefully chose which table I was going to sit at.
...after I reserved my seat with my things.
...and after I saw Sean standing at the back of the stage and mustered up the courage to approach him for a hug and a selfie. (He gives the most excellent bear hugs by the way.)

Yes, after all that, I found myself back at my seat, alone, until a woman (whom I will call Jane) approached and asked if she could sit by me.

"Sure!" I responded, and as she sat I asked her what brought her to the conference. Her response was not quite what I expected, however, given the conference was full of therapists, clinicians and other addiction treatment personnel. "I don't know," she said. "I'm not sure why I'm here. This whole addiction thing, it's just really overwhelming." Although I didn't really understand. I smiled and agreed, because addiction really can be, and often is, mercilessly overwhelming.

A few minutes later, Jane's mom joined the table and quickly joined our conversation. It was then, during our pre-conference chitchat, that I learned that Jane's brother had died two years prior from a drug overdose. My heart grieved as the weight of Jane's loss sank in. Of course addiction felt hopelessly overwhelming to her, she had lost her brother to it. The grip of addiction was so strong that it literally stole him from her.

We sat quietly next to one another for the duration of Sean's presentation, until the end, when the miracle happened.

Sean referenced a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, where Sam and Frodo were alone in the ruins of Osgiliath, nestled in the shadow of the majestic city of Minas Tirith. It was there that they found themselves surrounded by the Nazgûl ringwraiths, flying atop their giant black felbeasts.


It was at that moment that Frodo really felt the full weight of his mission;
...to carry the One Ring to the depths of Mount Doom, the only place it could be destroyed.
It was there that he felt the deepest despair and the most devastating hopelessness.
...and it was there that the darkness of his burden nearly consumed him.

But then hope bloomed as one life touched another;

Frodo: 
“I can’t do this, Sam.”

Sam: 
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”

Frodo: 
“What are we holding on to, Sam?”

Sam: 
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

With tears glistening my eyes, I turned to Jane and said; "There's your hope." And with tears in her own eyes, she smiled, nodding in agreement.

Jane may not have understood why she was at that conference when she arrived, but we both knew why she was there by the time Sean concluded Sam's words.

My heart soared heavenward as I thanked Heavenly Father for touching one life, through the life of another, as He always does.

There truly is good in this world.
There is hope amongst the darkness of addiction.
And it is worth fighting for.

Thank you, Jane.
Thank you, Sam.
Thank you, Sean.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

If I Am Not Alone, then We Are Not Alone

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but in my case, it killed my self-worth, my connection with others, and my trust in God. Not only that, but it led me down a very dark and lonely path, riddled with traps and snares that kept me shackled in my world of despair and isolation. I was terrified that others would discover my secret, my defect, my scarlet letter; that I struggled with viewing pornography and compulsive masturbation, even on a daily basis at times. Such behavior is not exactly socially acceptable, especially among women and especially in Christian fellowships. I didn’t know how to escape it, but I didn’t know how to ask for help, either.

I felt completely stuck.

At times I reflect back and I feel the utmost compassion and empathy for myself. I was simply lost. Emotionally isolated. Shrouded in despair and shame. I felt unworthy, undervalued, freakish, disgusting. I used pornography and masturbation to not only numb the pain that I felt, but to actually feel some level of ‘feel-good’. I never felt emotionally happy, so I settled for physical pleasure. Yet, such craving left me believing that I was somehow genetically defective, because I thought that what I struggled with was a ‘mans’ disease. I couldn’t imagine there was anyone else like me – anywhere.

So twenty-five years I spent tumbling through one addictive cycle after another: viewing pornography, engaging in masturbation, lusting after people, and participating in sexual encounters over instant message and chat rooms, as well as in person. And if that wasn’t enough, each of my addictive behaviors were mirrored by shame cycles filled with self-hate and loathing and blame.

I saw no escape.

Then something happened. Miracles began to happen. My bishop started to appear in the strangest of places and would constantly bump into me. One day he was in my shared driveway fixing my neighbors car. Another time I bumped into him in an empty hall, but for the two of us, at church. I felt God speaking to me; ‘Go in and see him. Talk to him. Open up to him.’

But I was scared.

So I didn’t go in for a very long time. But I knew the time was coming so I finally mustered the courage to send my bishop a message on Facebook. “I have some things to tell you,” I said, “but I’m really scared.” His response was compassionate and kind. “No one can eat an elephant in one sitting. I’m here for you when you need me.” No pressure. No judgement.

He was safe.

So I made an appointment for the following week. And that was the beginning of the journey I’ve been on for the past six years. It took some time, but within a few months of meeting with my bishop I began attending a women’s sexual addiction recovery group. It is there that I found connection, compassion, and the empathetic words ‘me too,’ which I have since learned to be some of the most powerful words in the universe.

Most importantly, I found hope.

It was in the safety of those recovery rooms that I was finally able to openly share my pain, my shame, and my fear. No judgment. No shock. Just love and acceptance. The friends in recovery that I have since gained in those meetings have been the most prized relationships of my entire life. They loved me for me. It didn’t matter what I’d done. They just loved me. And that love taught me how to love myself, not in spite of my struggles or even because of my struggles, but just how to love myself. No requirements or expectations attached. 

I had found my tribe, and I had found my God.

Now, six and a half years later, I call myself a walking miracle. ‘Coming out of the darkness’ seems like such a cliché phrase, but it’s exactly what God did for me. He walked hand in hand with me and guided me the entire way. Even when I felt unworthy of His light, or felt it would even burn me. He never faltered. “Follow Me,” he said, “And I will make you whole.”

So I trusted Him.

And because I trusted Him, I am no longer bound in fear and dictated by shame. 
I now have hope. 
I am now happy. 

I can now speak openly about my struggle, and I do, in hopes that others who are lost in darkness will know they are not alone. 

For if I am not alone, then we are not alone.

Ezekiel 34:11-12,16

"For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick"