Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Hometown: A Place of Beauty and of Brokenness

Sinking into cushioned warmth and comfort of my favorite cottage rose patterned damask covered chair this morning, the first grace of the day came from the hands  of my husband as he handed me a steaming hot cup of coffee he'd brewed before I even got out of bed.  He greeted me with a gentle good morning kiss.  The next grace came from Boston as he came to sit by my side.  Soft, throaty sounds came from him as he patiently waited for me to stroke his neck, his ears, his head.

I am blessed.

Still dressed in my pajamas and an old blue hooded fleece jacket, aka my morning robe, and wearing worn and rundown looking Ugg slippers, a gift from many Christmas's ago, I left the safety of my home to retrieve the morning paper buried and nearly hidden under three inches of snow.  Before I bent down to pick-up the paper, my eyes scanned the quiet, snow covered,  peaceful looking place where I live.

Such beauty.
This world has such beauty.

Then my mind was again assailed by the events of the previous day.

Such brokenness.
This world has such brokenness.


The day after Thanksgiving, I'd been tempted to stay home and read and write all day.  I wanted to avoid all places where shoppers would be frequenting.  An early morning phone call to a dear friend ended by us making plans to meet in an hour at the health club so we could do water aerobics together.  

The warm water in the therapy pool provided us with the perfect place to move our achy joints and catch up with each other on our latest news and thoughts about life.  After class we headed to the hot tub for more conversation while soaking to ease those same achy joints.  

Showered and dressed, as we headed to the front door together to leave the club, still talking and laughing, we decided we weren't done visiting yet, so we headed to the comfortable looking couch in the lounge area.  

Not long after we'd situated ourselves for a bit more conversation, the instructor for our Monday Zumba Gold class leaned over to ask us if we'd heard the news of the shooting yet.  "What shooting?" "There's an active shooter on Fillmore," she said.  "Where on Fillmore?"  I asked?  I looked up at the television screen overhead, and saw the news crawl across the bottom of screen.  "Not again?  Here? We have a mass shooting here today???"  Then, my phone rang.  It was my sister in San Diego.  "Where are you?  Are you ok?"  She'd just seen the news of the shooting.

Girlfriend time and conversation ended abruptly with this sobering news.   Quite honestly, I didn't didn't want to remain in a public place at such a time.  My thoughts went to Columbine, and 9/11.  I'd been in my classroom and responsible for lives of my students when the news of these senseless acts of violence occurred.  Then there was the time a shooter went into a local church and started shooting.  I remembered being in my kitchen on Sunday morning when I heard that news.  I was at home in my kitchen when I heard of the Aurora Theater shootings.  I'd been mopping the floor in the laundry room when I heard of Sandy Hook.  Now, I was sitting and enjoying the company of a dear friend at our health club when our feelings peace and safety were sent flying end over end.  "No place is safe." I fought thinking those thoughts.  "Has the world gone completely crazy?"

We decided to head home.  It was snowing quite hard as I headed out of the door.  I checked my phone for the latest news on Facebook.  My cousin lives near the place where the shooting was taking place.  I called her to find out what was going on.  I wanted to see if my access to home would be blocked since I live about eight miles from the shooting.  She told me which streets were blocked and caught me up on the news that was being broadcast on live television.  It appears the shooter was targeting the Planned Parenthood building located near a very busy, one of the busiest, intersection in Colorado Springs.  There is a large shopping area across the parking lot from the PP building that houses small shops and large grocery store where I most often do my grocery shopping.  Next to the PP building is a medical building where I have visited a gifted neurological doctor.  Jim has gone to the eye doctor in that same building.  

As the day and evening progressed, we'd learned that three individuals, one a police officer had been killed in the shooting spree.  Nine people were injured.  Five of the injured are police officers.  The shooter had surrendered.  He was in custody.  


By the time I went to bed last night, I'd learned that the officer killed was a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police officer.  He responded to the call of a shooting by leaving the campus and going to assist his fellow officers across town.  He was a former ice skating champion and devoted husband and father.  He was also a devout Christian, an elder in his church, a song leader, and a teacher of the Bible.  He showed valor and bravery as he went to do battle with a man intent on doing bodily harm to whomever stood in his way of accomplishing what ever his senseless mission might have been.  

My heart is broken because of this senseless tragedy that occurred in my hometown.  I, like so many others, try to make sense of it all.  No one can make sense of those actions that are senseless.  I know that, but human nature wants me to try to make sense out of the darkness that fills the souls of those whom participate in such acts of violence.

Last night, I prayed for those harmed in the attacks before I drifted off to sleep.  I prayed for the wife and children of the slain officer.  I prayed for the families of the two other victim killed in the attack.  I prayed for those who suddenly found themselves victims of this tragedy just because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

 I then prayed for my ninety-nine year old mother.  She'd sounded terrible when I'd called her earlier in the day.  She had a chest cold.  I called her again in the evening and lectured her about not ignoring her symptoms and urged her to get medical care if she became worse.  As I prayed for her, I questioned why she had to be exposed to such violence when she turned on her television and saw what was occurring in the place where she grown up and raised her family.  


This morning I read the morning news, which not good; it only gave more details about yesterday's insanity.  I then called to check on Mother.  She sounded much better and was quite chipper as she said, "Good morning."  I thanked God for answered prayer.  We talked about the news.  We talked of the beauty of the snow.  We talked about the brokenness of this world.  We ended our conversation by discussing the new shoots of growth coming from our orchids.  

Yes, even on a day of cold, gloom, and sorrow, there is still hope for new beginnings and even future beautiful blossoms, 

I think as I check on the orchid in dining room window.  It is good to discuss such things with my mother, the one with such a green thumb, who continues to teach me much on life, faith, and gardening even on the darkest of days.  

Yes, thankfully, I have my mother on days such as today to ground me and remind me of fundamental truths about life.  She gets up every morning and checks to see what happened outside while she was sleeping before she makes her one cup of coffee, fries her bacon and eggs, and makes a piece of toast.  She reads her morning devotional and Bible passage before she reads the newspaper.  

She's seen much in her century of life.  Much.  She is connected to the world and interested in it.  I think that is why she is still going strong. She tends to her occasional chest colds, but rarely gets sick.  I learn so much from watching her as she thrives in her aging process.  Even though she will be 100 in a little over a half of a year from now, I can't bring myself to describe her as old.  She trusts the Lord for each day that she is given.  In the end, despite the evil all around us, she continues to trust in the goodness of the Lord.

I ponder the dichotomy of the world in which we live after I hang up from my morning talk with Mother.

We have been placed  in a world of great beauty, but we have also been placed in a very broken world.  In the brokenness that surrounds me, I pray I will not turn to bitterness or fear.  

It seems everyone wants to have a platform these days to spew forth whatever hatred, rancor, and division fills their hearts.  Acts of violence fills our newspapers, news feeds on the computer, and the daily evening news.  We are seeing insanity at every turn.  

I wonder what people group will be the hated other this week.  Last week it was the Syrian refugees we were all supposed to hate and fear.  Before that, we were told to hate the illegal immigrants from Mexico.  Before that it was those publicly speaking out against the war in Iraq whom were target for hate attacks.  We constantly judge each other and attack each other in the media and even in small groups who gather around dinner tables to celebrate Thanksgiving, or even in our church meetings, or school buildings.  There seems to be no sensible discussion of the events and problems of our day.  Does our generation not know how to discuss differences of opinion? 

This week, will it be that we are told to hate the so called religious fanatics that picket against abortion?  Never mind that we don't know whether or not the shooter in Colorado Springs was a religious fanatic or not.  His name has already been linked to those who picket against abortion in the daily news as if he is one of those people.


Today, I will continue to seek understanding and grace.  I will lift my eyes unto the hills, gazing at my beloved Pikes Peak, the mountain that lived at the end of the street where I was born.  When I look at this peak, it will be the same solid mountain that lived at the end of the street where I grew-up.  Pikes Peak, my mountain, still lives at the end of the street where senseless violence killed three innocent people on Halloween.  This purple mountain majesty, on a day when it was shrouded and hidden behind dark clouds, was still standing when it provided the backdrop for a place where incomprehensible terror and mayhem left a stain of blood from a brave police officer, a man of God, on cold snow covered concrete on a day after the day when when we gather to give thanks for all of our blessings.

Today, when I lift my eyes unto the hills, I will see the beauty of the place where I live, but I will also see our shattered broken world at the feet of America's mountain.  

Despite the brokenness, my hope for the future is not shattered.  That mountain, and all the others surrounding it, will still be standing long after I have gone.  If, for some reason, the mountains should be moved, if that which seems impossible should happen, I will continue to hope.  I  will continue to hope because I trust in the One the Psalmist wrote about in one of my favorite Psalms: 

Psalm 121.  

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord,
which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:  
he that keepth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is they keeper:
the Lord is thy shade upon they right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
he shall preserve they soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and they coming in from this time forth,
and even for evermore.


I know of no way to live in this place of beauty and brokenness except by trusting in the One who made the world and continues to hold it together even as it seems that all sanity and peace is being shattering and tossed in all directions.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Personal Narrative about Decisions That Impact Others

On a beautiful Sunday morning thirty-three years ago today, on November 7, 1982, after months spent studying my Bible, I entered a small Baptist church in North Ogden, Utah.  For sixteen years prior to this date, I attended and was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

 I was a convert to the LDS (Mormon) Church at the age of twenty-one.  My former husband, a return missionary for this church, baptized me on the same day we became engaged.  We married a few months later and were "sealed" in the Salt Lake City Temple for "time and all eternity" a year after that.  For the next sixteen years, I was a loyal and faithful member of the LDS Church.

On November 7, 1982, I had been separated from my husband a number of months.  I had turned to my Bible as a source of comfort and wisdom as I was seeking ways to deal with the break-up of my marriage.  Along the way, my heart and mind began to be transformed as I began to see many things in new light.  I told no one I was reading the Bible.  I didn't want to be influenced by anyone in any church or religion until I felt like I had a more firm foundation regarding my own personal beliefs about God and His Word.

As I read and studied and prayed for direction and answers, several other factors which I will not go into today led me to decide I needed to attend a Bible believing church where the Word of God as found only in the Bible was preached.  I contacted a Christian couple I knew of, the Goldrings, and asked them if they could direct me to a church where I could study the Bible more completely.  They sent me Valley View Baptist Church in North Ogden.

Over past few years, I had watched the pastor personally build Valley View from the ground up.   He had lived in an old house located on the same plot of ground where he was building the church.   Weekly Sunday services were held in this house as he worked on a new building for the growing congregation.  Some Saturdays, or week nights, I would see members of this church with hammers, saws, and ladders working on the construction of this building.  I admired their hard-work, determination, fellowship, and faithfulness from afar.

On that day when I finally walked through the doors of the now completed church building which housed Valley View Baptist, I had actually gotten up and dressed in my children and myself in our Sunday best and headed to the LDS Church located just up the street from our home.  Then, after fighting a mental battle in my head which kept saying, "You know you just can't continue to go to a church in which you no longer believe.  Why are you doing so?"  In reality, I could no longer remain status quo.  I knew that my decision to attend another church, even for one Sunday, which is really all I intended to do, would impact my children.  As I recall, only the younger three children were with me on that day.

As I drove the car along the familiar path towards the church I attended each week, I finally made my decision.  Instead of turning right, or to the north,  at the corner by our house, I kept driving east and headed the mile or so down the road to the Baptist Church.  I entered the sanctuary a tad bit late.  The services had already begun.  I was grateful I would not have to meet anyone.  With the Bible my father had recently sent me clutched tightly in my hand, I slipped into the back row of the church as the congregants began to sing some of the old hymns I had missed for so many years.

On that Sunday, Pastor BJ Hall preached on Luke 18: 8- 30.  I turned to the passage and began to read as he preached.  Was this sermon meant just for me?  I read and listened to the story about the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus immediately pointed out to the rich young ruler that "none is good, save one, that is, God."  Then Jesus reminded this man that he knew the commandments and spoke to him seven of ten commandments.  The man said, "All these I have kept from my youth."  Jesus replied with the words that he lacked one thing:  selling all and following Him.

I knew this story, but on that day it had new meaning to me.  Had I been resting on being good?  Had I actually believed that my "goodness" would somehow grant me eternal life?  Did I believe that by doing all that was prescribed for me to do by a religion I had joined I would be granted points with God?  Did I believe that if God asked me what I had done so that He might grant me access to Him after my death I could say, "Well, I've been good.  I haven't broken those seven commandments."  I was convicted about how shallow my arguments would be before a Holy God after I had just read that Jesus had already said there were none good save God.

An internal battle was being waged.  I knew the truth.  I knew I had chosen to follow Jesus when I was twelve years old.  Along the way, I had been sidetracked when I chose to trust in practicing religion instead of trusting and following Christ alone.  I had been hanging on to or trying to practice self righteousness.  I did not want to admit how far I had gotten away from trusting in grace through faith alone.  I knew it would be difficult to publicly affirm my true beliefs.  I knew my life would be forever changed when I did such a thing.

Luke 18: 29-30 convicted me all the more.  "Verily, I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."

At the end of the sermon, Pastor Hall issued an altar call for those to come forward who wished to receive the Lord.  My internal battle intensified.  I could not remain in that back row of the church any longer.  I moved towards the aisle and began to make my way towards the front where the pastor was standing.  With my body shaking, but with head and heart firm in conviction, I told him I was already a follower of Christ.  I wished to publicly declare that I was rededicating my life to Jesus and renouncing my affiliation with the LDS Church.

Sunday, November 7, 1982, was my personal Reformation Sunday.  I returned to my true beliefs that Sunday,  and in many ways followed the pathway of the Protestant Reformers before me.  The "five solas" were again embraced by me:

  • Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone
  • Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
  • Sola Fide - Faith Alone
  • Solus Christus - Christ Alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria - To God Alone Be Glory

On that day, as the service was ending, after the congregation had sung their signature hymn, the one I will always associate with Valley View Baptist Church, "Victory in Jesus," Pastor Hall  prayed for me and asked the congregation to pray for me.  He said, that as soon as I left the church that day, that the "great guns of hell" would be aimed at me and that I would need much prayer and support.

He was right.  That is another story for another day.  Now, I want to turn my attention to the ones who really suffered because of my decision: my children.

Suffer little children...

Thirty-three years ago, when I made a decision in North Ogden, Utah, to leave the religion I had been a part of for sixteen years, and reaffirm my true religious beliefs, I was thirty-seven years old and the mother of five children ages fifteen, twelve, eight, six, and four.  I had been raising the children alone without a job, an education, and with very little financial support from their father.  He had left the family home many months before.  I had hoped to save the marriage.  That is why I started reading the Bible.  I was looking for answers on forgiveness and reconciliation.  

As a family, we all were as deeply submerged in the cultural assimilation of the LDS Church lifestyle as any Mormon family in Utah could be.  We also were going through great turmoil as a family.  The head of the household had left.  I was struggling financially and emotionally from the toil of raising a large family with few resources and little support.  I also had been a victim of domestic violence.  This is a part of our family story which is difficult to relate, but it is a truth that we all had endured because of the abuse that had been suffered and witnessed.  Deep in my heart of hearts, I believed, and still believe, that people can change, and do change, because of forgiveness and grace.  I believe  reconciliation is a powerful outcome that occurs when grace, truth, and forgiveness come together.  It remains the prayer of my heart for my entire family.

When my own life turned directions, when I began a new path, I did so out of faith in the God I had known since my earliest days.  I had great hope for my future and future of my family.  I also was a realist.  I knew that my actions could, and most likely would, have great ramifications that might not prove to be beneficial to all concerned.  

Keicha's Memory of Events in 1982

A great divide opened up in my family on that day thirty-three years ago.  Today, my oldest daughter and I discussed how my decision affected her.  She was twelve years old in 1982.  Her life was in chaos because the family which had always seemed so strong, secure, and supportive had come apart at the seams.  Her father was gone and her mother had gone off and done some crazy thing like leaving the Mormon Church.  As she said, "I didn't have a dog in the fight," but she and my other children were caught in the middle of some huge battle being wage around them.

At a time when all she wanted was to feel like she belonged somewhere, her life had been upended first by her father's actions, and now by her mother's actions.   She began to cling to the one thing that had always been there for her and had not changed:  the LDS Church.

The actions of her mother and of her father had nothing to do with her, yet suddenly, through no action of her own, for reasons she didn't even understand, she felt different, ostracized, singled out by her peers, and by some adults in her life.  She was asked why her mother was doing what she was doing.  She was asked if she would remain faithful despite what her mother had done.  She acted out at home towards me and towards her younger siblings who accompanied me to the Baptist Church.  

She said she had loving and supportive people who reached out to her, but she said she always felt that by doing so they were also asking her to take sides in a battle she didn't understand, one of which she did not even wish to participate.  She just wanted her life back as it had always been.  She felt that she had to choose between her loyalty and love for a parent and her loyalty to an institution.  In the end, she said, "They drove me away."  She does not blame me for the position in which she had been placed.  Thankfully, we have had many years to work through the damage done to our relationship between 1982 and 1983.  

She is passionate about how parental decisions about lifestyle and religious choices impact children.  She understands first hand how such decisions can impact in a negative way the children trapped in the middle.  She understands how alone such children can feel.  She understands what it feels like to be labeled "different" by peers, adults, a church, because of the actions of parents.  I admire her passion and her compassion.  I admire how she uses her own voice, one that she gained from many heartbreaks, to speak out for those who might not have a voice, or whose voices are being silenced.

A Memory I Have of Julie During This Time

During this time of family upheaval, Julie, at age six, embraced all that was taught about Jesus at Valley View Baptist.  She loved to sing, "Victory in Jesus."  She asked for a cross necklace for Christmas.  On the first day back to school after Christmas break, she proudly wore her new necklace to school.  She was in first grade.  Her teacher had bought the home in which we lived when Julie was born before we moved to North Ogden.  The teacher was well acquainted with the family and was well aware of the turmoil the family was experiencing.  When Julie returned home from school that day, she told me the following story.

The teacher had asked Julie in front of the entire class why she was wearing a cross to school.  Julie said, "Because I asked my mom for it for Christmas."  The teacher asked, "Does this mean you are no longer a Mormon?"  Julie said, "Yes, now I am a Christian.  Someday, I am going to walk the streets of gold."  The teacher then told her this was inappropriate to say in school and that she was not to wear the cross to school anymore.  Julie was devastated by the way she was treated by the teacher.  She didn't understand.  I verified her story with the teacher.  I expressed how inappropriate the teacher's questions and directives were towards my daughter.  


This long narrative is a departure from my usual type of writing on my blog.  It is deeply personal.  It is my own story of my journey as believer.  I don't often write about my faith in this forum.  My oldest daughter and I have been talking about the events that led up to my departure from the LDS Mormon Church in the last few days.  We've talked about the effects that a decision I made in order follow my own deeply held religious convictions impacted her and her siblings.  There were details that she never knew or had forgotten.  There were wounds that she suffered that she needed to talk to me about.  

For many, many years, I have not written, nor have I publicly spoken about leaving the LDS Church. I stopped writing and speaking about this part of my life because of the impact it had on lives of my children.  I wished for them to struggle and search for their own understanding and beliefs when it came to religious beliefs.  

My children and I have many, many long debates and discussions about God, Jesus, the Bible, religion, and personal beliefs.  They were raised to think for themselves.  Just as I was raised, they also were raised to never participate group think.  I encouraged independent thought and exploration when it comes to establishing personal belief systems.  I also share openly and completely what my beliefs are.  Believe me, when we all get together, there are some pretty interesting debates that are waged between the siblings and between myself and my children.  I welcome, encourage, and embrace these debates because I firmly believe the words of John Milton: "Let her and Falshood grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"  

Freedom of Choice, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Speech are freedoms for which I will always fight.  They are freedoms for which I hope my children will always fight in the ways that are aligned with their own convictions.  

A recent decision made by the LDS Church has caused great controversy in Utah.  Not living there, I was not even aware of the controversy until my daughter and I spoke yesterday.  Her heart is breaking for the children that are caught in the middle of the controversy.  My heart always breaks for children whose lives are negatively impacted by any decisions that the adults in their lives make.  

I am not going to personally engage in the public debate that is now swirling around in social media and in the press regarding recent decisions of the LDS Church.   My blog is a place where I express my beliefs.  It is not a place where I get involved in public debate.   This post was only written from a personal point of view regarding my own life and how decisions I made impacted my children in what appeared to be a negative way at the time.  Over time, I believe my children have come to deeply respect my choices because I made them based on my deepest held beliefs.  

They know I love them more than I love life itself.  They know I pray for them every single day.  They know I will use my voice to express what I believe.  They know I would never force my beliefs upon them because I trust in a great big Sovereign God for all matters of life and faith for those whom I love. They know that I believe in a God who never changes.  He never has changed.  He never will change.  Nothing catches Him by surprise.  He is the Beginning and the End.  I can trust Him for them.

The words of Jesus are often twisted and turned to support whatever beliefs many wish to be foisted on others.  I do not wish to do that.  If you read this entire piece of writing, I hope you will seek out Truth in an open and free way.  

I personally believe that Truth is only found in the Bible.  The truth of the Bible can only be understood by testing scripture against scripture as a complete and whole truth.  Parts and pieces can not be cut out and interpreted to explain some belief that does not line up with all of the other parts of the Bible.

I leave you with these words of Jesus that are found in Matthew 19:14:

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me:
for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, 
for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.