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.

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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, 


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.

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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 say 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.

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

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"