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Fresh Courage Take

By Michelle Lehnardt

2008– it’s been a rough year to be a Mormon.

January brought the death of our beloved prophet, President Hinckley, a force of nature who had virtually led the church for 30 years. We’d scarcely had time to mourn before Mitt Romney’s presidential bid poured scrutiny and ridicule upon the church.

As a people, we responded with letters, blog posts and candid conversations with fellow Christians, “I don’t think you’re going to hell. What makes you so sure I am?”

Yet, just as we’d steadied our collective feet, the Texas Rangers raided an FLDS polygamist compound and GOODNESS! everyone thought that WE were THEM. My husband calmly answered phone calls from distant business associates, “Yes, one wife is enough for me.” and I told blogging friends in Florida, “No, no, I don’t have to wear a skirt every day.”

And from there, the storm never let up: new accusations about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, vicious internet rumours about the Prophet Joseph, missionaries desecrating a Catholic shrine and– possibly the most divisive issue of our time– Proposition 8/gay marriage.

Personally, I’ve witnessed several families leaving the church this year. Not necessarily over the issues stated above, but often they were the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s been suggested that this is a time of weeding, of sifting out the truly faithful saints from the chaff. But I find this attitude unChristlike. People are not weeds, people are not chaff. Souls are valuable in and out of the church. God will make the final judgment but our task is to reach out, to embrace, to give place to our friends and family in whatever level of church membership they desire. Our doors are flung open and we can slide over and make room on the bench for whomever would like to partake.

My own mind has been cluttered with doubts this year. The absurdities of Mormon culture and the embarrassment of some of our history has nudged me to question why on earth I drag six kids to 3 hours of church in a ward where we’re scarcely welcome.

Because it’s true. Darn it. It’s all true.

So where do we turn when uncertainty clouds our testimony? How can we help friends and family who struggle to believe? The answers are many and I hope you’ll add yours in the comments. Here are three that work for me.

Give equal time. In Elder’s a fellow member of my husband’s quorum expressed shock over a recent email that revealed Joseph Smith as a polygamist. At 34 years old, I wish this man hadn’t been blindsided by the fact, that yes indeed, the Prophet Joseph had several wives. As Saints we have a basic responsibility to know our history(sorry friends, The Work and the Glory doesn’t count). Furthermore, we don’t need to gloss over the foibles and downright stupidity of church leaders and members. People make mistakes. Only one perfect man ever walked this earth; and He was God.

But as we study church history, I offer this one caution: give equal time to scholarly material and the scriptures and conference reports. A testimony built on church history will surely crumble, but a knowledge of the scriptures serves as a firm foundation. If you don’t have time to study both, forget what I said earlier. You don’t need to know church history, simply feast upon the word of God and his prophets.

By their fruits ye shall know them. When my spirits wane I take a trip the LDS Humanitarian Center. It’s easy enough to visit at ProvidentLiving.org but if you’re lucky enough to live in Utah(like me!) a field trip to the center is incredibly inspiring. We’re saving babies! We’re delivering wheelchairs! We’re making hygiene kits! Recent immigrants are the only paid employees and they are gaining language skills and job training as they sort and pack and shuffle. It’s beautiful; it’s incredible; it’s INSPIRED.

Shall I go on? Are you tired of my ramblings? Welfare Square. The Perpetual Education Fund. LDS Social Services(which has become a model for it’s programs eradicating substance abuse and addiction). The Conference Center. BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii(sorry Ute fans- you know it’s true). Refugee Assistance. For the Strength of Youth(possibly one of the most inspired texts ever written). Temples.

As my friend Ellen loves to quip, “Even if the church weren’t true; it’s a great way to live.”

Treasure the tender mercies. I’m a grumpy sort. And sometimes one frustrating Sabbath is enough to annihilate my last shred of faith. But even as I mutter and clang pots on the stove top, memories of God’s tender mercies pile one upon the other: my babies, my husband, the quiet prompt that led me to a friend, the turn where I avoided a crash. Suffocating under the blankets of God’s goodness, my rage is extinguished and I am left calm and grateful.

Dark, dense clouds have gathered, and I suspect 2008 was merely a drizzle compared to the storms coming our way. But we’ll make it through. Please catch my hand when I stumble and I’ll help steady your wagon when the crossing is treacherous. We know the end of this earthly anthem — all is well, all is well.

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

42 thoughts on “Fresh Courage Take”

  1. I really loved your last paragraph–it's so helpful for me to feel like I can love and disagree but still serve and grow within this community that I choose to be a part of.

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  2. Thank you, Michelle. So, so true! I've found this to be a rather difficult year for me personally including some soul searching on some of the issues you mention. Like you, I take great strength from the core, feeding principles of the gospel. A friend of mine said sometimes a more helpful testimony meeting would be, rather than "I know it's true" testimonies (although important), instead "I commit to keeping on working on my testimony" testimonies. I see the wisdom in that–to acknowledging that it takes continual work. And then, if we're lucky/blessed/faithful, we become strong in those weak places.

    Thanks for the nudge for fresh courage!

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  3. You said it best…Because it is True! Darn it. It's all true.
    Your friend, Ellen and I must have been neighbors in another life as I use that exact quote here in another corner of the earth (South Florida)
    Oh..The Humanitarian Center…when given a choice, I go there over Temple Square for the past several years now. I have taken Non-member friends there when we were all in Salt Lake together….THE BEST part of the trip, they always say, and they were in Utah to SKI!

    I will refer to your post often! Thank you for putting in words my thoughts of 2008.

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  4. Okay, Michelle – WORD TO YOUR MOTHER! Well said. I recall someone saying once that any publicity is good publicity for the church. It's the law of opposites. Many will hate us over prop 8, but perhaps the church's teachings found their way into the minds of those open enough to research and become acquainted with both sides of the story. And those are the people who make the best members, those who are open minded and are truth-seekers.

    And I feel honored to thank you for helping me steady my wagon when the crossing has been treacherous because you have! Let us ALL press on in the work of The Lord!

    Thank you for sacrificing in all of our behalf obscene amounts of calories to write this. Twas inspiring.

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  5. I love this line: "Suffocating under the blankets of God’s goodness, my rage is extinguished and I am left calm and grateful." The ability to notice life's miracles, large and small, is a gift that can be cultivated–and that I need to spend more time cultivating. Thank you for your beautiful words.

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  6. Angela just quoted what I was going to mention, but it's so beautiful it's worth repeating:

    "Suffocating under the blankets of God’s goodness, my rage is extinguished and I am left calm and grateful."

    Thank you for that. I didn't know why I felt compelled to visit here today, but I am grateful that I did. I will be linking to this post and quoting that amazing sentence on my own blog in the future.

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  7. I love this and what your friend Ellen said. I had many discussions with a non-lds friend many years ago, answering his questions, explaining my faith and beliefs. I am not a blind faith kind of person, so I thought he would see that I was grounded and had valid thinking behind me testimony. He ultimately told me he thought I was being brainwashed and belonged to a cult. After the shock of that, my primary thought was, "If this is a cult, this is the best D!@# cult there is." 🙂

    As for the input you asked for, I have to write what worked for me during one of my very intensive periods of doubt: Keep covenants and keep doing the basics (including temple attendance and fulfilling callings).

    Thankfully during that time for me, I felt a prompting that if I did those things, I would get through the struggles and doubts and would know it was true again. I feel very grateful for that prompting. I don't know where I'd be today had I not had it.

    Over the years, as different doubts or questions come to mind, I return to that. I remind myself that I have felt a "knowing" or "believing" before, and it will come again.

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  8. This was so perfectly put, and I am so happy to have found you Michelle. You've articulated many of my thoughts. I've listened as some have used the the terms "sifting" and "weeding" and have felt it inappropriate and a bit prideful. God wants us all.
    There is so much that resonated with me here, but I will just narrow it down to this,the Lord's tender mercies are what keep me here. With a brother that I desperately love and cherish(who happens to be gay), a heavy calling at a heavy time, sacrament meetings filled with screaming, crying, biting, and a # of kicks to my arms, hips and head, weeks filled with weekly activities, meetings, visits, and hallway encounters such as "Will you please teach the pie making class?", I have been heard to tell my husband, "I'm thinking about quitting that Mormon church". The last 10 years I have had to repeatedly revisit and reassess my testimony. Previously it had been a few times a month, these days it is at least a few times a week. Gratefully, I go back to the day, years ago, on an island off Nova Scotia when the Lord blessed me with a witness that I had not sought nor had I asked for. Now looking back, I realize, it is not only the witness that draws me in, it is also the love, for He knew me and He knows me. He knew that I would need that in order to weather these times and those to come. Understanding that I am intimately known and intimately loved gives me a bottom line when so much confusion bombards me.

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  9. Thank you so much for this Michelle, and thanks for all of the comments. I agree with what you said about this history, and I wish there were more faithful sources to which we could turn for understanding on the "foibles and downright stupidity" of the past. It would be nice to be able to discuss it without fear of condemnation or loss of faith.

    Sounds like I need to go visit Welfare Square. I've never been. Do you have to schedule an appointment?

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  10. I love this, Michelle. Thanks for the reminders– especially to give both scholarly and scriptural stuff equal time. I tend to fall either one way or the other on the ends of the spectrum, and a little balance is always good.

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  11. "It’s been suggested that this is a time of weeding, of sifting out the truly faithful saints from the chaff. But I find this attitude unChristlike. People are not weeds, people are not chaff. Souls are valuable in and out of the church."

    Thank you. THANK YOU. And ditto Melissa.

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  12. I agree that I don't like that phrase used referencing the dear people around us as weeds. The Savior loves us all. I do think it's true that it often feels harder to hold tight to our testimonies, though. I sometimes feel assaulted from all sides. It is so nice to have each other.

    Thanks Michelle, this was lovely and timely.

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  13. Wonderful! Thanks for pointing these out as part of the year we've all survived. The thing you didn't mention that shook me up was the Law and Order episode that mentioned things about our faith that were uncomfortable for me. It's silly to think about now but having garments referenced on a popular prime time TV show rocked my boat a little. A knee-jerk reaction for sure. I've steadied since, and gone on to be rocked by other things. It seems that the water is slowly getting warmer so we'd better get acclimated.

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  14. Awesome post. I love "Because it's true. Darn it. It's all true." That is what carries me. I know it's true, and it is a great way to live. Despite all the noise and clutter of the world, that is something I can fall back on. Even if sometimes I want to run far, far away from life and live in a bubble, reality tells me I cannot. Thank you for putting to words my thoughts.

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  15. Three things that might be helpful:
    #1, When one comes across a some anti Mormon material that troubles you, (i.e. Brigham Young said this or Joseph Smith did that) then go to the Church History source material. I have found that every time I dug in and found out the the full story that my troubles were overcome.
    #2, Read Joseph's Journal and you will see what a true and caring heart he had. He really was concerned with the Lord's People and gave his all for them.
    #3, Study Church History and don't judge those people any harsher than you want to be judged. With only one exception, God has always used imperfect human beings to conduct His affairs here on earth.

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  16. Oh my word! As a convert, I have felt all those things and more. Your post spoke to me…and I can't say thank you enough.
    I am sick to death of the sifting commentary. Just because I am at church every Sunday does not mean I am on the right side of the sifting!!!! Souls are valuable. I am so so grateful for all those who have grabbed my hand as I stumbled over the years.
    Thank you again for your post. Really. Such a gift.

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  17. Amen, Michelle Amen.

    Thank you for sharing what many can not find the words to say. So well written, so beautiful and so true. I am so glad to know you and "stalk" you a little.

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  18. you just keep skyrocketing up my list of heros michelle. so well-stated…all of it. you think such great thoughts, and i'm so grateful that you share them. ♥

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  19. One of the best posts I've ever read. Glad that as a fully active member, I'm not alone in sometimes throwing up my hands and saying, "this is ridiculous! Why do I bother!? Hooray for you–now I don't have to feel guilty for feeling that way sometimes!" My best friend (who was baptized by my dad) left the church this year and your words reminded me to get off my high horse and just love her. She's stumbling through this life just like me, and from the Lord's viewpoint, we're probably not very far from each other on our eternal journeys. You are a talented writer. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

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  20. You have spoken the exact words of my heart (that my tongue isn't eloquent enough to voice…) This was powerful, true and inspiring. I've had many of these thoughts this year. Your last paragraph reminds me of a Bruce Springsteen song (not a fan of his just the song) "Should I fall behind wait for me". From one "grumpy sort" to another…thank you!

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  21. This was so thoughtfully written. Thank you.

    I feel to defend the wheat and tares parable a bit though. Probably, my defense is unnecessary, but just in case, here goes….

    Jesus’s parable isn’t intended to belittle anyone’s worth. No one knows a soul’s worth more than He. It is a prophecy and – as we will study in RS in a few weeks – Joseph Smith said it particularly applied to our dispensation (see also D&C 86).

    Remember, a person becomes a “wheat” or a “tare” based on choices— our agency is transformative! The harvest merely separates like with like. We get to be with people like us, for better or worse.

    Frankly, I look forward to the wheat and tares separating, and I work, pray, and repent daily that I will not be a tare! Remember, the field is the earth, so this separation isn't just in the church. When I read the news – even from my little town- and learn of more sin, crime, abuse, neglect, and general meanness from some of our fellow men, I can't help but look forward to the time when such people will be separated and unable to cause more suffering.

    Justice is just as beautiful and necessary as mercy. Our Savior’s words overflow with both.

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  22. I am not a Mormon, not even a Christian, closer to a Buddhist, but there are many beautiful things about your church and your faith and I'm glad you fight for them. Your church actually has much to teach the rest of the world.

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  23. I LOVE the quote that Ray and someone else quoted above.

    And the last paragraph was awesome, too. !!!

    I do tend to agree with Katie about the wheat and tares thing — I have never seen that concept as an excuse to ignore or shun others. People indeed aren't weeds and shouldn't be treated as such (!!!), but we have been reminded that staying true is hard, and it will be harder as time goes on. (Whew.)

    It helps me to remember that we do live in difficult times, and so I shouldn't be surprised when sometimes I struggle under the weight of the opposition that I sometimes feel — either globally or personally. It also helps me to remember that faith wouldn't be faith if it all was always nice and neat and made sense and always was easy. (Duh, yeah, but I have to remind myself of that during hard times in my life.)

    What's exciting for me is that the longer I live, and as I continue to not give up along the way when things get hard, it all just gets even MORE true. I've been amazed at how many times, and in many different ways, the Lord has rescued me from dark times. And sometimes that has just been because I have not given up. So that's my advice. Just don't give up.

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  24. I suppose what is difficult for me to feel comfortable with when my neighbor down the road refers to the "wheat" and the "tare" when referring to a person is it feels a bit condescending when coming from someone who is also being "sifted". It doesn't take something momentous to sift oneself. Surely not keeping the Sabbath day holy, complaining, criticizing, and rushing to judgment can also separate us from God.
    Another reason it makes me feel uncomfortable is that I believe the Lord has asked me to not settle upon someone as "sifted". I would choose to focus more on the parable of the lost sheep. I do not wish to be separated from many people who have fallen behind. When my brother falls behind, I will continue to go after him, and will not pronounce that he has been sifted until the Lord has. When one of the young women continue to fall further and further behind, I will not say, "well, I guess she's being sifted", I will continue to go after her. That is why it makes me uncomfortable for us, as the Lord's servants to make the pronouncement, not because He does not sift, but because He has asked us to not give up.

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  25. I love what you said, Martha. I was thinking about the whole sifting thing, because the scriptures say there will be a sifting (don't they use that word? I don't have time to look), but I agreed with everybody about how harsh that sounds. I like how your point of view allows for both aspects and for us to be more charitable.

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  26. I think 2008 has been a great year to be a Mormon…I'll take another! I've had countless reasons to engage in conversation about the church as I've traveled around the country on business. I'm glad to be in a position to answer questions and set straight the record. If I didn't have this chance, many would still be believing the news reports and in return, sharing my beliefs and testimony has only strengthened my resolve.

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  27. Great thoughts.
    I loved this post, and I have many thoughts on the "wheat and tares and sifting" and on "prop 8", but what struck me, because of a recent personal experience is
    "Because it's true. Darn it. It's all true."

    Since we have relocated to an entirely different part of the country (going on almost 4 years now) I find myself in a very non-inclusive ward. It is very different from much of my previous experience and has been depressing, isolating and eye-opening. My ward is very happy to accept my service, especially as one of their few pianists, but I am constantly reminded that it is really the only thing they value from me. Something happened recently (a couple of weeks ago) that made me shake my head in more disbelief than ever before and I said to my comiserating sister, "I would quit this ward if the church wasn't true."
    I am grateful for the testimony I do have and I pray for the many, many members who are treated this way throughout the church who are not strong enough to endure and end up leaving this beautiful gospel over its imperfect members. Do they even know what they are responsible for? I know I have personal responsiblilty to not take offense and remember that people are not perfect (including myself) but I would be devastated and heartbroken to know that I had a hand in breaking the chain of activity in this church for someone and their posterity. Everyone needs a friend. Everyone needs to feel like someone else genuinely cares. (And nobody, NOBODY wants to be someone else's "project.")
    Just be kind.
    "Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Marjorie Hinckley

    I too, love the sentence:
    "Suffocating under the blankets of God's goodness, my rage is extinguished and I am left calm and grateful."

    It's what really gets me through.
    I know I am blessed to have the gospel.
    Thanks for your words.

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  28. just one more thought to add to your wonderful comments– I talked about the sifting concept in Sunday School and our responsibility to keep reaching out, loving our neighbor.

    One man raised his hand and said, "Imagine if I sent my 3 sons camping and told them to take care and watch out for each other.

    And then imagine if only two came home and said, 'Oh, he was just goofing off and wouldn't help with the tent or the fire. He wandered off into the woods and we left him….'"

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