To Leave The Church or Not: A Defining Moment

Lately I've seen a number of articles/posts where people are telling their stories of why they left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And I think of Neon Trees singer who has very publicly expressed deep anger and hurt towards the Church and renunciation of his LDS Church membership. First, I'll say I'm not criticizing anyone for the choices they feel are best for them, whether or not I agree with them. We all do the best we can with the knowledge we have and how we feel.

But I wanted to share my thoughts about my recent experience examining and questioning my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my journey in making that choice. Perhaps there are other people out there that my story could help in some way.

My story actually began back shortly after I graduated from high school. I had grown up in the church, was baptized when I was 8, attended Young Women's and even received my Young Womenhood medallion. But after graduating from high school and moving away from home, I decided that I had been to church for 18 years, heard most of the same things over and over, so what was the point. So I stopped going to church for next year and a half or so. Life wasn't easy. I was still trying to find my way, figure out who I was and what I wanted out of life. And often, I felt very, very alone.

One particular day, I was feeling especially down. Life didn't feel like it was worth much, or that I was worth much to life. I went to see a movie - Moulin Rouge to be exact. It was the second time I was going to see it. I had surprisingly really enjoyed the creativeness of the movie the first time I saw it. I went by myself and was sitting there thinking. Thinking that life didn't really feel very worth living. That there really wasn't a point. Now, I always get to movies early - I don't know why but I just do. That was the case this day. After a few minutes of my inner, dark contemplation an older man sat a few seats away from me. He turned to me and started to talk to me. He asked about me and my life and told me about him and about his wife who didn't happen to be with him that day. He was very kind and genuinely interested in my and my life. He talked to me the whole time until the movie started. About 5 minutes into the movie (now if you've seen Moulin Rouge you know it is about a courtesan or a high-end prostitute basically, so some could find it questionable) the man got up and left. Nothing much of course has happened yet in the movie, so I thought it was odd when he never came back.

By the end of the movie, I again acknowledged how odd it was that the man had come to the movie, left 5 minutes in and never came back. As I thought this, suddenly another thought jumped into my head - it was like someone was talking to me. It was Heavenly Father saying to me, "He was there for you. I want you to know that I know you and I love you. That man was there for you."

Still to this day, talking or sharing that experience brings me to tears and I remember vividly that voice in my head and how I felt. I knew at that moment and in the time since so indelibly that Heavenly Father knew and knows me and He loves me more than I can ever understand. That experience was definitely one of those times in my life that can be classified as a defining moment. It began my journey of gaining a testimony of the gospel and becoming active again in the Church.

Fast forward about 13-14 years. In the years since that experience I have had a number of other very significant and defining moments about my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it's doctrines. I've felt pretty secure in my testimony and have worked to strengthen it. But as I've progressed into my 30's and haven't gotten married it has some times been difficult - not just difficult - very, very difficult. I think especially so in the last 5 months or so because I finally left the YSA Ward and joined the family ward. Ironically enough, I left the YSA Ward because the age gap was just becoming very apparent and I felt alot older than most in the ward, to join a VERY young family ward. The average age of the family ward I'm in is probably late 20's. So now I'm part of a ward where the majority are younger but they are married with kids - often several of them!

And while I really want to get married - I've acknowledged and accepted for myself the difficulty I have in connecting with men (read this post for more back story on that) which makes the concept or even prospect of marriage seem very impossible. And while I believe God is a god of miracles, I'm not sure this is one miracle I'm going to see in this life. Combined with some other very personal turmoil over the last couple of years, about a month and a half ago I just felt very frustrated.

To the point that one day I asked myself, "What if I'm wrong? What if none of this is really true? Am I missing out on a life, experiences or relationships that would really make me happy? What if I went another direction than I have been for the past 14 years?"

While some may be horrified at the thought of questioning your testimony, it didn't scare me. It was what I had done for years while getting my undergrad - having questions that made me examine and really ask myself if I believed things I said I did. I always came out stronger and with a firm understanding of what I knew and really believed. So for myself, I felt it was important to give place, time and thought to these questions.

For weeks these questions occupied my mind and I thought about them all the time. I felt alot of confusion and inner turmoil.

"What if?"

"What if?"

"What if?"

"What would bring me the most happiness?"

"What would be best for me?"

But my mind would always go back to that moment in the theater - when I felt so clearly that God was there, He knew me and loved me. I really did know that what I believed was true. I didn't know or understand everything, but I knew many, many things. And I knew those things by study, faith, prayer and many experiences that wrote them very clearly on my heart and mind.

But the question still persisted - "Would I be happy going a different direction - pursuing other relationships?" Being alone is hard - so very, very hard. And struggling to make connections with the possibility of it leading to marriage makes it even harder. So I really wondered if perhaps I should go a different direction.

It all came to a head when in my pondering I realized that if I went a different direction, my relationship with Heavenly Father would be different. He would always love me, but I would be unable to be as close to Him, because we can't expect to go against things He commands and still have the Spirit with us. And without the Spirit we cannot feel or be as close to Him. I thought about how I wouldn't be able to go to the temple anymore. Or hold a calling. Or partake of the sacrament.

And in that moment I knew without a doubt - I couldn't truly be happy without those things. Without a close, personal relationship with my Heavenly Father and my Savior, enhanced by the companionship of the Holy Ghost. How I wouldn't give up that "peace that passeth all understanding" that I've only ever felt and experienced in the temple. How I wanted the strength and help of the Savior's Atonement that is only available as we live in repentance and strive to keep Heavenly Father's commandments.

I didn't want the personal turmoil, or to feel alone and/or lonely. I didn't want to wonder at times at my place in the Church or my contribution to society. But more than anything I want to do what God asks. And He does ask us to make choices - hard choices. To give up things we want with all our heart. To choose Him above all else (God Does Tell Us Who To Love).

And I wanted to share this, though it is difficult because it is very personal, because perhaps there is someone else that is struggling. That has wondered, "What if?" or is currently wondering. That wonders what they really do know or believe. And I want to say - Don't give up. Keep doing the things that allow you to feel the Spirit and receive strength through the Atonement. Repentance. Scripture study. Temple attendance. Partaking of the sacrament. Fasting. Praying.

Do those things until you get a clear answer. It may take time - more time than you think it should take. More time than you think you can keep going. But keep going and keep doing. The answer will come.

Heavenly Father and the Savior are real. I know this even though I've never seen them. In fact, I know it more clearly and surely than so many things I have seen or heard. And I KNOW they love us. They love you and they love me. But there will be difficult times. We will be asked to make sacrifices - to choose God above all else. But one other thing I know - all will be right in the end. I don't have any idea how it will be made right - how it will all work out. But I trust God and know that He loves me more than I can ever understand, and that because of that it, however it will all work out will be more magnificent than I can ever imagine. So I trust in that and I trust in Him.
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Our Connection Crisis

I hate what our society has done to connection. Hate it, hate it.

People need connection -


But we don't understand it, often fear it and thus ultimately aren't getting it. And it is hurting us - emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. There is study after study that outlines the problems caused by not having connection in our lives. 

We need emotional and physical connection. 

The Problem?

Our society has sexualized almost all connection. 

If I want a close emotional connection with a member of the same gender, it's very likely I'm gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. And can we even talk about physical connection? Something as simple as holding hands - if we see someone holding hands, most of us probably automatically assume they are in some kind of romantic relationship (read this article for how hand holding could benefit all of us).
Society has allowed hugging to be a little "safer" as we often hug friends of either gender, but it is almost as if we have a timer or a thought in our mind that we can only hug "briefly" or it must mean something romantic.

But wanting to connect with others, very often has nothing to do with our sexuality - it has to do with our humanity!!!

So too often we either hold ourselves back from connecting closely with others, or we throw ourselves into connecting by making it sexual or a combination of both. And thus we end up depressed, anxious, unhappy and unfulfilled because what we really need is authentic emotional and physical connection that has nothing to do with sexuality or sexual attraction. 

I'm going to tell you a little story now. This is a tough story to share. But it is my story and I think it is time I talk about it a little more openly. Today, I'm going to embrace courage because I hope we can change what has happened to connection. That we each individually can do our part and change the definition, view and reaction to connection. 

This is my story:

Like everyone, I had a need to connect with others. I remember noticing it when I was a teenager - probably around 14 or 15. It wasn't until years later, that I was able to realize I had a DESPERATE need for connection. For many years, trying to get or create connections, was one of the main focuses of my life. I thought about it all the time, and much of my time and effort was to try and make connections happen. The majority of the time I wanted connection with other females and had a hard time connecting with guys, which today I understand the why but it doesn't change the want.  

This desperate need for connection, often led to very poor behaviors trying to "make" other people connect. This of course, led me to work really hard to do things to be liked or wanted, And often using guilt or manipulation to try and get connection. This of course led to feelings of inadequacy, guilt, self-loathing, etc. Which led to doing more of the behaviors to try and connect. And round and round it would go. It was a vicious cycle. 

Ultimately, it led to the ending of a number of friendships and the friendships often ended in very hurtful ways. For someone wanting connection so badly, it was a devastating blow to be told, "I don't want to be friends with you anymore." Of course, looking back now I can understand why the friends did what they did, but that doesn't make it any less hurtful. 

When I reached my late-20's I was trying to figure out why I wanted connection so badly, yet never could seem to make it work. And I was trying to figure out why connection seem so much less important or valued to other people. And because I most often wanted connection with other women, I finally concluded that I must be attracted to women - that perhaps I was lesbian. This wasn't the first time the thought had crossed my mind, but it was the first time I actually said to myself, "This is what I am." It didn't feel right, but it seemed right based on what I wanted and what society told me I must be if that was what I wanted. 

I talked to a few people about it, "admitting" what I had decided was who I was. Everyone I told was supportive and kind. 

But then one day I was revealing this to a friend who knew me well. We'd carpooled for almost a year and had spent alot of time talking. She said, "Cherilee, I wonder if it isn't really just about connection for you?" She wasn't making a statement but she asked me a question that hit home and seemed to resonate. It was an "Aha moment" in the sense that it seemed to just feel right though I didn't understand it at the time but I spent the next 3-4 years trying to know for sure if it really was just about connection. 

In that 3-4 years I studied and thought alot about connection. And I did alot of soul searching - I wanted to understand what was going on for me really, regardless of what society said about what I felt and thought. I listened to many others' stories as well as their thoughts and feelings.

With all of the soul searching and listening something began to emerge about connection, what it is and what our society has done to it. I realized it had nothing to do with sexual attraction, or my sexuality and everything to do with my desire as a human and a women to connect with others, including other women.  

Because of that, I finally decided it was time to stop being quiet and only sharing my experiences and thoughts with close friends. I decided it was time to tell my story in hopes that it will even help one person to look at and seek real connection or at least think about what they are seeking and while for some it may be about sexual connection, I would venture to say for many it isn't. There have been times, in the last couple of years, that I've despaired that how we view connection and how we strive to connect is forever skewed. But I spent the last two years, getting the help and facing my own demons and insecurities to get to a place where I am at peace (most of the time) within myself. I still want connection but my desire for connection is no longer ruled by my demons or society. To finally understand that connection is a complicated thing for all of us. There are people and genders that will be easier for each person to connect with. That is ok! That is part of what makes us individuals. But too often we are too quick to jump to conclusions about ourselves and others, instead of just seeking to emotionally and physically connect with others to give and receive support and connection as a human being.  

I hope each of you that read this post will think about your own thoughts on connecting with others. Will strive to connect deeply with others and will be open to considering that connection isn't what society tells us it is! That connection often isn't about our sexuality - it is about our humanity!

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God Does Tell Us Who To Love

Love is such an interesting thing. In our society today, love is confused with attraction and talked about in a way that gives the illusion we have no control over it. But lately I've been thinking a great deal about what God tells us about love. Love is mentioned often in scripture and the other day I realized something -

God does tell us who to love. 

Matthew 22:37-38 says - "Jesus said unto him, Though shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all they soul, and with all they mind. THIS is the first and great commandment" (emphasis added).

God wants us to love Him first. Above all other people or things. Which means it may be asked of us to give up someone we love because loving them means we won't be putting God first, which means keeping ALL His commandments. Again in Matthew we read, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
In other words, we aren't to love anyone more than God.

In a great talk, The Great Commandment -- Love the Lord, given a number of years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson said, "Can we put God ahead of security, peace, passions, wealth, and the honors of men? When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities."

Awhile ago I had a conversation with a friend about same gender couples and how it wasn't right that the Church would say that people can't love those they love. I agreed that it was a heart-wrenching thing that seemed very unfair. It is so hard when what you feel and want seems to be denied to you. I understand the questions of why would God ever ask that or do that to someone? I don't why some things are the way they are; the whole why behind who we are attracted to (mostly because I think this is a complicated formula that consists of many factors) and the complicated thing we call love. Ultimately, the gospel doesn't tell us who we can't love but tells us who we should love and who should come first in our love and all our affections.

People have given up family, wealth, position and even their very lives for this gospel, so though sometimes it definitely isn't fair (I'm sure all those people that gave up those things would say it didn't feel fair) they were willing to do it because loving God should come before anything else and for most of us we will be asked to give up something if we strive to live the gospel with our whole hearts, minds and strengths!

The thing is, God doesn't ask us to put Him first and to love Him above all else because He needs an ego boost. God doesn't ask us to love Him for Him - if He did, He wouldn't love all those that don't love Him. He asks us to love Him and put Him first for US.

For a couple years after I turned 18 I was inactive from the Church. Back then, I figured I had been there, and done that for 18 years and that was enough. But one day a couple years after I had stopped going to church, I went to see a movie on my own. I was sitting there before the movie started feeling extremely discouraged about life and feeling like there was no purpose to me being there. A few seats down and older gentleman sat down and he began to talk to me, asking how I was, about my life, sharing things about his life and his wife. He was very kind and showed a genuine interest and concern about me - someone he didn't even know. When the movie started, it had only been about 5 minutes into the movie, he got up and left. He never came back. As the movie was finishing, I started to think about how odd that was - nothing questionable had happened in the movie - not much happens in the first 5 minutes, so I wondered why he had left and why he had come to the movie.

Just then, a thought came to my mind that was very powerful and not my own - it said, "That man was there for you because I want you to know that I know you, am aware of you, and that I love you." That started my journey to gaining my own testimony of the gospel and gave my testimony the foundation that God loved me. In the years since then, I've had numerous experiences and confirmations until I have no doubt in my mind of God's love for me and each of us. That He loves us more than we can even comprehend, and that what He asks is ALWAYS the best for us, even if it doesn't seem or feel that way at the time.  

Mark 10:29-30 tells us, "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters or father or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world come eternal life."

As Preach My Gospel says so well, "All that is unfair about this life will be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ." I don't how this will be. I don't know how the heartache we've each suffered and the difficulty we faced when we give up people we love, or a life we feel and want can be made right but because I know the Lord loves us more than we comprehend I know it will be. And it will be more glorious and wonderful and worth everything I gave up in this life to strive to follow Him and love Him before anyone or anything in this life.

And He does not leave us alone. He knows when our hearts are breaking because we are trying to put Him first. I know He will succor us and helps us through ANYTHING if we turn to Him and through doing the things He asks us to do - reading our scriptures, prayer, living in a repentant state, attending church, partaking of the sacrament, attending the temple. Each of these things bring the power of the Lord into our life and allow the enabling power of the Atonement to flow through us. It doesn't mean our hearts will be changed (though that is possible) or that who we are attracted to will suddenly change, or our family will accept us and the gospel or that it won't hurt beyond what we ever thought we could withstand. But it does mean the Lord will bless us with the strength to keep moving forward and to feel peace and joy. It will take effort and desire but the help is there.

His arms are always outstretched. He loves us and asks us to love Him so we can be changed so one day we can be like Him and live with Him being able to receive all He has.

For me that means, I will take each day as it comes, accepting that some days and things are going to hurt beyond measure but trusting in a love I know more surely than anything else.

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The Fiction of Win/Win and Bathrooms

Sometimes there just isn't a way in situations to make them a win/win. In fact, when dealing with a number of people it is often almost impossible to make everyone happy. But often when we talk or argue about things that are really important to us, we speak as if we expect everyone to fall in line - to agree with our position or at least be happy about it!

Its been all over the news about the different institutions making declarations of who can use which bathroom.And most recently their has been an outcry from both sides when Target announced that their policy would be that transgender individuals can use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity.

Now I personally have very strong beliefs about gender and identity. I don't know what it feels like to question your gender or your sex. But I do know what it feels like when things don't seem to fit and what confusion feels like. I know those feelings well. They are difficult and hard and I know how hard it is to be mired in those emotions. So even though my belief is that gender is an eternal part of our identity, I feel empathy for anyone that identifies as transgender because I know it can't be easy.

Yet, I also understand the fear of predators - because sadly in our society there are many, many sexual predators of both genders. Is it a little scary to know that someone can now claim to be a gender to more easily gain access to the bathroom of the opposite gender when they have predatory intentions?


As a grown woman it makes me personally nervous and even downright frightened for young girls who are unable to defend themselves.

HOWEVER, I must say - predators find a way and if that is their intent - a simple sign won't keep someone out of the opposite gender's bathroom.

Though personally, I would prefer to not be using the restroom with a man who identifies as a women. I would feel uncomfortable. And of course, most of us would prefer that if someone has to feel uncomfortable it shouldn't be us it should be someone else - the minority.

But I understand how it feels to be in the minority, when most of the time the majority rules. The structure of many a society has been such that whatever the majority wants, the majority gets regardless of how the minority feels. I understand how we ALL want to be able to do such a basic function in privacy and not having to feel uncomfortable or scared about what might happen there. NONE of us likes to be the minority when what we want isn't acknowledge as having value or being heard.

The difficult part is - how can there ever be a win/win where everyone feels comfortable? Why do we have such a hard time acknowledging that isn't possible? There isn't any easy answer in this situation that makes everyone comfortable and happy. I know the majority want the majority to continue to rule. But I know the minority would like to have what they want heard and accepted.

What makes this all even more difficult is too often we each stand in our own position and shout about how WE are the one that needs to be listened to and followed. We don't take the time to consider the other position, the difficulty that arises for someone who feels differently than we do.

Can each of us take a minute to think about how someone in a different position than our own might feel? Even if we don't agree with their position. I think each of us knows what it feels like to be ignored or experience having our needs ignored. To feel confused about something that about ourselves, or how we feel compared to others or the majority.

I know how I would like things to be for myself but I acknowledge there are millions of others with needs and feelings too. So regardless of policies now or in the future, I can be firm in my beliefs but strive to be kind, to look out for others, and to listen to someone's position whether it is the same as mine or different with empathy and then strive to treat them with love. I can be on the watch for predators regardless of what the sign on the bathroom says.

Each of us personally can make situations win/win.
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Why Trump Is America

I've watched in somewhat horrified amazement as Donald Trump has become the front runner in the Republican Presidential Race. For weeks I've been thinking -




 Articles are saying it is because Americans want change. Others state it is because of the economy. Additional, articles argue it is because of racism.

But I don't think the deep underlying reason has to do with any of those things.

This week it hit me - Trump is America. He epitomizes so much of what we as Americans are. All of us. You, me and the person next door. Attention seeking, finger pointing, blame shaming, personal responsibility avoiding, want to be heard Americans.

Perhaps you are planning to vote for Donald Trump. Perhaps not. It doesn't matter. We all have a part in what America has become and engendered those behaviors that have led to someone that has little thought, except for himself, as a presidential front runner.

We want a voice. And we want to be heard. Social media does a wonderful job of giving us a false voice. Of attention that is fleeting but seems to give satisfaction. I've found it interesting as I scroll through my Facebook feed. One thing I love to look for are recipes. I enjoy cooking and get bored with the same things over and over. So I look for new recipes that are pretty easy with no ingredients that I can't say let alone find in my local grocery store. There are a lot of recipes posted on Facebook these days. If you take a look, you will also notice, usually hundreds of comments on a post, with a number of those posts complaining about how unhealthy the recipe is, how A instead of B would be easier or better or whatever, or a complaint of some kind. Most probably don't really care if the recipe is healthy or not, haven't tried method B to know it is better than method A, but they want a VOICE. They want to feel heard. So they say SOMETHING....ANYTHING.

A recipe post on Facebook may seem insignificant so let me expound a similar type of thing but with a much more significant post. I would argue the same principle applies when there is a news report or post on someone being killed by the police. I'm not saying that brutality by police officers doesn't exist but when the report is made of an officer involved shooting or killing, social media goes wild. There are immediate posts about police brutality, that it was unjustified, that it was justified, that we need to call for action against the police. And oftentimes it even goes on to fuel protests and riots against police and police officers. Do we take a minute to think, that we can't possibly know the whole story? That if we personally, or one of our family members were in danger, we would be grateful for a police officer that risked their lives to help us? That the only actions we can control are our own?

We have become a reactionary country -  waiting for something to pounce on to scream about, to complain about to protest because we feel unheard. Unfulfilled. Unwanted. And we blame the country, the president, the police, other people, our friends or our neighbors. It is everyone else's fault but our own. We blame and then we shame or blame shaming. It makes it easier to avoid looking in the mirror. To seeing ourselves. To taking the time to have an actual conversation with a person in the room.

Recently, there was a couple that had tried to treat their child's meningitis on their own. And their child died. I saw post after post calling this couple all kinds of names and saying all kinds of things about them. It is a tragedy what happened. But why are we shaming this couple? They made a mistake - a huge mistake - that I'm sure they recognize at this point. Though if they don't, shaming them isn't going to make them realize it. We all make mistakes. Most of us would never want our mistakes, big or small, projected into the wide world for all to know.

But we shame to make ourselves feel better. To feel like by climbing on our shame box that we escape to a certain degree our own failings. Or unconsciously to say to ourselves - "Well I make mistakes but not THAT big of mistakes." So we post and complain. Post and blame. Post and run away from personal responsibility. And then we wonder why Donald Trump is a prime candidate for president?

Now don't get me wrong - I'm not pointing fingers at anyone from my own soapbox. I'm right down in the muck with you. I blame. I react. I seek attention from means that aren't fulfilling. I run from personal responsibility. We all do it in some ways and we always will do it. What has happened though, is we aren't even conscious or willing to SEEK for personal responsibility and accountability. To stop blaming organizations, people, beliefs, etc. for what is wrong with our nation and communities. To stop and take a look at ourselves personally to see how we are supporting others, our community and nation.

Let me give you a personal example. I've only voted once in my life. Those of you that know my approximate age, know that means I've not voted a number of times I should have. I've made all kinds of excuses for not voting (because I really do think the whole politician and election process is a joke) but what I was really doing was avoiding my personal responsibility to this country to make my voice heard and to take responsibility for what is happening in this country. By not voting it was easy to say - "Well I didn't vote for them. The voting process does nothing. I can't make a difference." (I'm striving to repent of my ways, am registered to vote and will vote in the upcoming election). Now, I recognize I do live in Utah and my vote may seem not to make a difference, but I can make it make a difference for ME by accepting the responsibility I have as a citizen of this country.

We each can make a difference. Every single one of us. But not in the way we think. We can make a difference by not ignoring our personal responsibility. We stop pointing fingers and blame shaming. We don't post just to say something....anything. We realize its less about posting and more about actually doing. We stop saying that everyone else, or someone else, or a specific minority group is the problem and we take a deep, long look inside and identify the things we can change, the things we can do to make America a better place.

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