Kate Kelly was not kicked out of Heaven

I’m careful to write about this subject.

Partly because it is regarding another human life and partly because it has to do with something that I consider sacred, personal, and private.

But it’s a topic we can’t dance around, ignore, or wish away. Even though for every Latter-day Saint right now we wish we could wish it away some way or another. We wish it could be different for everyone–and I know I’m speaking on behalf of every side to this argument.

Yesterday the decision was made. Kate Kelly was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And my heart sunk.

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If you’ve been following my blog even in the slightest that last part might surprise you. I haven’t agreed with Ordain Women’s agenda or mission statement since the launch of their website in 2013 and Kate and I have very different ideas and theologies. BUT my heart still sank. Kate served a mission—dedicating 18 months of her life to the gospel and to those who need it. She married in the temple, making covenants with God that sealed their love forever. She most likely served in many callings, leading others with her natural knack for speaking, encouraging, and teaching. She’s intelligent and well-spoken. She was a member we needed. That’s something to be sad over.

But then my heart sank for something else. Something that hurt a little worse.

In the darkness of a cramped car as we drove back from a day trip I read by the light of my phone an interview with Kate shortly after her excommunication. And it stunned me. *You can read the whole interview here.*

“Essentially what they’ve done is, they’ve not only kicked me out of church, they’ve also kicked me out of Heaven,” Kate said in the interview. She continued on, “…I do not acknowledge that God recognizes the decision…I don’t think these men have control over that.”

These men. Kicked out of Heaven. God doesn’t recognize the decision.

Ouch.

My only question for Kate would be why she’s so saddened over leaving the church if it’s only full of men who have no authority from God, if decisions made in the church don’t really matter, and if temple covenants are nothing other than whispered, thoughtless words that carry no further than the ceiling?

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It was a punch to my gut—and maybe even to yours right now—that anyone would think that our church is made up of thoughtless men who kick people out of Heaven. That temple covenants don’t mean much because we’ll all just get there somehow.

It stunned me, because truth is–no one kicks anyone out of Heaven. No one has the authority to take you by the shoulders and steer you away from the pearly gates. You alone hold that power. You alone choose to walk in–or out– of Heaven.

Am I damning Kelly to a place other than Heaven? Absolutely not. I’m just restating what my religion–and the majority of other religions–believe, and that is that every individual dictates their own salvation. Your choices, your love for God and for the doctrine you follow, ultimately steer the course of your life and point you toward where you’ll stand when all is said and done and you see the Savior face to face.

These men Kate speaks of happen to be her brothers. Her friends. Her husband. Her counselors and teachers and prophets who spend time on their knees for her–and for all of us–to be comforted and to be faithful and to endure. These men love Kate. Just as the women in the church do. Just as the head of the church does–Jesus Christ himself. Their decision wasn’t a casual one. It wasn’t a meeting of egos that decided to kick a soul out of Heaven. It came after multiple conversations, dealings with Kate, prayers, tears shed from people of all sides of the debate, and genuine pleadings with the Lord. It came after letters that told Kate questions aren’t bad. Neither are opinions. It’s when questions turn to stumbling blocks and hindrances for others that it suddenly takes eyes off of Jesus Christ and eternity and puts eyes instead on worldly agendas, trending groups, and followings meant for personal gain.

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The “Church of Latter-day saints” Kate refers to in the interview is the Church of Jesus Christ–a church that is led by a Savior who should continue to be the only focus for its members–and for the world. In THAT church, the one with Christ within the name, our Savior teaches and counsels, edifies, encourages growth, and welcomes. It’s us alone that back away.

It’s us alone that has any kind of potential of kicking ourselves out or taking away promises we’ve made.

We, as a church, need to learn something from this event. We need to learn that the fight that really needs to be fought is the fight to win souls to Christ. No other agenda. No other reason to gain followers. No other reason to be involved. It’s to rise up as women and men in the gospel–together–to reach others and to stand for what’s not necessarily popular, but what is true. It’s to use our talents and our time and our enthusiasm to better the world, to heed God’s word, and to always succumb to humility before pride. It’s to practice our faith in our covenants and to remember the validity of the promises we make. It’s to remember that sometimes the good fight lies in what’s least popular in society.

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Elder Hales once said, “If you judge your actions and the standards of the Church on the basis of where the world is and where it’s going, you will find that you are not where you should be.”

While I hurt for the damage the heated debate has done to so many, I also hurt for Kate. And we should. Because simply put–there’s room here.

From the moment she commented on my blog months ago in response to my first opinion article I have had respect for her leadership skills, her zeal, her drive. I know for a fact that she’s someone who could lead in so many capacities that are offered in this gigantic church and someone who could easily lead others to Christ. I know for a fact she still has that chance.

A day will come, I hope, where she–and others in her shoes–will realize that there is no grand jury forcing members to leave. There is no group of meaningless, hard-hearted men who insist on forcing out the women. No. instead there are closed eyes and bent knees and clasped hands praying…praying…praying for a safe return from a thwarted course.

I am one of those praying.

 

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“I left Christianity because of the people”

“I left Christianity because of the people.”

The words hurt my heart yesterday as I chatted with a good friend of mine. We were discussing religion. God. People. Mainstream Christianity. Topics that went hand in hand with some e-mails I sifted through while I sat on my break. One email in particular stuck out to me and I shared it with him.

I won’t quote it word for word or tell you who wrote this email (Totally not my style). And I hate giving attention to negativity–but this one, in turn, made me seek for the positive. *That’s “worth-sharing” material in my book*

The long winded email elaborately stated that I’m not a Christian because I don’t read the Bible. He told me Mormons go to Hell. It stated that I’m confused and hurting over the loss of a parent because I’m not a Christian and God isn’t on my side. BUT, *they kindly interjected* if I confess my sins and look for a different church, THEN I’ll be saved.

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When I read this yesterday, I couldn’t help but share some of it with my friend. And that’s when he told me, straight out, “I left Christianity because of the people.”

Now, bear in mind, my friend *We’ll call him Dan* is probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s hilarious. He talks about his wife as if she’s made of gold. He works hard every single day. And without saying it, he certainly shows that he believes that kindness matters. So this was a side of Dan I hadn’t seen before as we discussed religion. I never knew that he used to be an active church member, in love with the word of God and over-scheduled with church events. I never knew that people–like the one who sent me that email–taught him a whole different lesson about Christianity.

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So–how could I NOT write about it??

Sitting there with Dan and hearing his story, I rewinded five years back to before I joined the LDS church.

I was what you would call a church floater for a time, bouncing around from one non-denominational church to another, joining different congregations and getting baptized into several different fonts. I floated–never really finding answers to all of my questions–yet settling down in a Pentecostal church until I was 18 and *had* to leave. I just couldn’t stay anymore. It wasn’t anything personal–it was just I really needed to find truth and answers to my nagging questions. Needless to say, through a friend, two missionaries, and 7 sleepless nights reading an old copy of The Book of Mormon, I found the light I’d been craving all along.

Now, five years later, one BYU-Idaho education later, a hundred missionary opportunities later, a dozen temple trips later–I don’t hesitate to still call myself a Christian. Oh–and I sure don’t let dust collect on my Bible either.

I am a Mormon and I am Christian. 

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I strive to be the kind of Christian that people like Dan feel comfortable talking to. The kind of Christian who doesn’t cut into this story and tell him to get his hiney back to church or he’ll face hellfire. The kind of Christian who has about five gay friends who *know* I’m Mormon and actually love it. The kind of Christian who goes to church because it’s a hospital for the sick, not a temple of the proud. The kind of Christian who shares a testimony of Christ simply because I *love* people–not because I love how much I know.

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I strive to be the kind of Christian who continues to adore people of varying faiths and different cultures–enjoying the unique perspectives and different acts of love and worship. I strive to be the kind of Christian who puts kindness before “being right” and love before condemnation. I strive to be the kind of Christian who doesn’t throw scripture in someone’s face, yelling out random verses to prove I’m a “scriptorian”, but to embrace scripture and try to live it to the best of my ability. I strive to be like so many of you reading this now–of all different faiths and backgrounds–who simply have it nailed on the head on how to love, how to serve, and how to emulate the Savior’s example.

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Yes, you choose to be offended. You can read a talk about that right here.

BUT you can also choose to be offensive. To be brash. To be hurtful. To use your status as a Christian to raise yourself up above everyone else and look down with haughty eyes. You can choose. (There’s a talk about that too! Right here)

Don’t be the reason someone leaves Christianity. Don’t be the reason someone feels like the outcast in your world.

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Instead, choose to be more like Him every day.

I found that when I choose that, I can honestly set aside pride and the need to be “right” or “heard”, and in turn–more people will listen to what I believe and even if they don’t believe the same thing–well, at least they feel God’s love in the process.

Because LOVE is what being a Christian is all about.

THAT, you might say, is my religion.

Secrets of our perfect un-fairytale: A letter to my prince

To my dear prince *AKA husband of over a year now*,

It started with a castle–just like a fairytale should.

Okay, not exactly a real, medieval castle with spires that pierced the sky around the time Cinderella lost her shoe. But it was our castle. Even better than a “real” one, I’d say.

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And it was perfect.

Even before the castle doors, I felt like you were coming into my life on a white horse, scooping me up in my dusty dress and replacing old slippers with glass ones.  And in many ways, I was right.

But then, the wedding bells were silenced, the dress was put away, and the routine of every day life commenced–as it should, and does. And I quickly learned about fairytales. I put my dance shoes away and, like many people in the world, I reminded myself that midnight comes and the glass carriages turn into pumpkins at some point. The fairytale, in Disney’s standards, ends almost immediately.

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People often say that when the two ride into the sunset, when the grand finale kiss comes, when the sparkles of fairy godmother wands float to the earth and every day life pursues–the book gently closes and “real life” is the cruel teacher that whispers that fairytales don’t exist for long. I’ve read blogs and have heard from people who say marriage isn’t a fairytale, it’s hard work. And struggle. And disappointments from unmet expectations.

And I almost–ALMOST–bought into that. Lots of us do. For example, I almost bought into it the first time I noticed you have a habit of leaving your clothes in piles–in a trail–all the way from the bed to the shower in the morning. Or the way you slam cupboards in the early morning when I can still be sleeping and kiss me a million times on the face despite the fact that mornings equal a grouchy Kayla. Or the way I threw up in front of you when I was dreadfully sick and spent days in bed looking like death. Or the way I have a habit of slipping into an ugly state of REM and like to drool all over my pillow. Or the way I have stared up at you a million times with horrible raccoon eyes as I cry, unconscious of the fact that my makeup is now a blurred mask on my face.

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I almost bought into it–that we’re a silly, unfairytale-like couple with stubborn ways and outbursts of crazy. But then today happened.

You called me as I sat by myself, hands bunched together, staring at the clock. I had just heard an hour before that my dad was admitted to the hospital again. He’s getting sicker, Mom said, and it looks bad. I called you a couple times and left voicemails, realizing you’re in class and wouldn’t get it ’til later. And I cried, knees up to my chest. And then, the phone rang. You weren’t asking what’s up or why I called during class. You were calling me from the hospital parking lot–before even calling me back you were at the hospital to see my dad. And just like that, I suddenly had my glass slippers on again.

As I made my way to the hospital, eager to join you, I reflected on how different every fairytale is–even in the movies. No fairytale is exactly alike. It comes with opposition, heartache–discoveries that turn the tides for a time. And with that same train of thought, I realized it’s not that I should lower my expectations of marriage–I need to instead readjust what a fairytale really is.

I don’t agree with the reasoning that fairytales are thoughtless, irresponsible love and marriage is only hard work and mutual agreement to keep on keeping on. Yes, marriage is hard work. A lot of work, actually. But it’s also dancing barefoot in the kitchen. Laughing til we’re breathless as we try to put together a coffee table from Wal-Mart that comes with impossible directions.

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Yes, it comes with heated arguments and tears. But it also comes with whispered words of “I love you” right before we fall asleep and embraces that heal the soul.

Yes, marriage comes with you scrubbing pans coated with remnants of burnt egg *that I forgot to soak* and me finding your dirty socks lodged between the headboard and mattress. But it also comes with little love notes on the white board and clean dishes put away after a long day at work.

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Yes, it comes with compromise. Plenty of it. But it also comes with those happy silences–the contentment of being in the same room and doing completely separate tasks. It also comes with goofy inside jokes that only we know and the finishing of one another’s sentences *And one another’s entrees during date night*.

Marriage comes with all of those anti-fairytale parts we’ve all heard of–but who’s to say that wasn’t part of the real fairytales all along? Who’s to say the “happily ever after” didn’t entail times of silent treatments, misunderstandings, or holding hair while the princess hovers over a toilet? It DOES include those things.

After thinking over all these things I walked into the hospital room and I saw you sitting by my dad, making him laugh, of course. Because you tend to do that.

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And glass slippers, big dress and all *or at least it felt like that* I was reminded of my modern-day fairytale, complete with hospital rooms, dirty laundry, overflowing sinks, and spats over which way to turn during a road trip. It’s also complete with daily laughter, a safe place to run to when the world just hurts, long conversations that I’ve never shared with anyone, and those morning kisses–the annoying, pesky little things that I just couldn’t live without.

There ARE such things as fairytales, regardless of general opinion. Imperfect, challenging, quirky, amazing fairytales that far surpass ballrooms and crowns and knights on fancy horses.

You see, when THAT is the way a fairytale is defined, it’s easy to see that’s us to a tee.

Happily, dysfunctionally, crazily ever after.

Love,

Your princess-in-training

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Armies of angels and marshmallow hearts: The signs of an eternal family

I can never read straight through The Family: A Proclamation to the World without stopping at a certain paragraph.

It’s impossible, actually. My eyes will read and re-read a few lines at the top until I look up from the page, imagining certain faces that come to life when those words are read.

These lines read: “The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”

Eternally. It’s a concept that is too large to imagine. It’s a concept that doesn’t conjure up images of galaxies dusted across a black universe or golden gates piercing endless blue skies. Not for me, at least. Instead, I see faces.

The first face I see is usually the face of my uncle. His name is Uncle Tom. And when I see his face, he’s smiling as he usually was, a glimmer of mischief in his eye as he plans his next joke, an easy smile as he props up a baseball cap onto his head to itch the hair underneath–a random memory I have of him from early on. I usually imagine him holding me as he reads to me from my arsenal of books I’d bring over to his house when I was tiny–or I see him holding my left hand as my Aunt holds my right, walking down a forgotten pathway somewhere in the recesses of my memory. I see him wink at me again, just as he did from his bed right before he left us, lifting his hand to hold mine–telling me he’ll watch me from Heaven as I take on the world. He’s eternally there. Unaged. Untouched when I read this from the proclamation.

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I then see the face of my sister-in-law, Natalie. And usually she’s laughing–one of those big, crazy laughs that have the rest of us busting up within seconds. I see her throwing her mane of curly hair over a shoulder as she shoots pictures with her beloved camera, seeing the world through a different lens. I see her sitting on the dressing room floor of a bridal shop with me, laughing until tears come down our faces, because we had ripped the back of a dress that I was trying on. I see her holding one of her children on each hip, still strong enough to support their little bodies. Still breathing without the support of oxygen. Unaffected by cancer.

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Shortly after her, I see the face of my cousin Kenny. A spunky, rebellious guy with a twinkle in his eye and a way of making life into a roller coaster of adventure. I see him scheme with an exaggerated rub of his hands as he cheated his way into winning the game of Clue each time we played. I see him singing terribly to Leeann Rimes. I see him untouched by the hand of a murderer. Safe, smiling, cheeks flushed from his last adventure somewhere.

I see my Great Grandma, also known as Grandma Ducky. And when I see her she’s usually still at the lake she’d take me to, bag of bread in hand, chuckling her raspy chuckle as I’d throw the bread and nervously back up as swarms of ducks flocked to my feet. I see her dancing with me in her arms,  and I smell tobacco and sweet perfume on her sweater. I see her arranging photo albums again, her crooked hands stroking the pages with each passing memory. She isn’t asleep in bed, a heart monitor by her side. She isn’t in a coma anymore, passing quietly beyond the veil. No, she’s awake.

And then, I see my dad. He’s a family member who isn’t gone, but right now he’s bravely fighting cancer–waking up each day with renewed energy and positivity despite his paling skin and dire diagnosis. But I still see him as I read those lines from the proclamation–and he’s not sick. I see him with a full head of hair–thicker than mine sometimes. I see him picking blackberries with me in our backyard and creeping out to our pond to catch frogs with me and dump them into our bathtub, much to my mother’s dismay. I see him from across the altar in a chair next to my mom as I got sealed to my husband, smiling proudly in a bright blue tie.

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With these lines of the proclamation I am given the renewed perspective that there is no end. And the love of family is far stronger than the distance created by death. They feel close to me when I read those eternal words and when I remind myself that relationships are perpetuated beyond the grave. It’s as if they never left or are never going to leave.

Elder Holland once said something that underscores the truth of this principle: “In the gospel of Jesus Christ you have help from both sides of the veil and you must never forget that. When disappointment and discouragement strike…you remember and never forget that if our eyes could be opened we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see riding at reckless speed to come to our protection.”

Those words ring true in so many ways. Those who love us always will, even from beyond the veil. I’ve felt them so many times–their encouragement, their concern, their love.

When my sister-in-law passed away it was a day before my birthday. We were at my parent’s house and my mom set in front of me a slice of cake and hot chocolate, trying to bring whatever joy she could into the house. Tears slid down my cheeks, and I grabbed my husband’s hand. In a silent prayer I asked Natalie to just send a sign that she’s ok. I don’t know why I needed it when I so clearly believe in the world to come, but during that kind of pain, I did. Nothing happened right away–no bold voice from the sky or extraordinary vision. But as I reached for my hot chocolate I looked down into the mug and saw it. A heart. A heart perfectly formed from melted marshmallow. To some, it may seem crazy. To tell you the truth, I haven’t told a soul until now. But to me, it was all I needed. OF COURSE Natalie would send me love that way. She was creative, funny–and she knew I’d know it was her.

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The sweet truth of eternal families is all around us if we simply choose to take notice and choose to believe.

Sometimes those loved ones will ride to your rescue on unseen chariots of fire.

Sometimes they’ll smile at you in your dreams.

Sometimes they’ll whisper love to you when you read the Proclamation to the Family or bend your knees in prayer.

And sometimes, they’ll simply send you their love with a marshmallow heart.

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**This is a blog that I wrote for the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” celebration. I was honored to write for this! Many thanks to Monserrat, the creator of this celebration, for asking me to do this. You can find my post, as well as many others, very soon on her wonderful blog at http://chocolateonmycranium.blogspot.com/.