Preparing for an Eternal Family

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a talk in my Church Ward about preparing for an eternal family. I feel prompted to share sections of this talk, after all, the blog is called Dreaming of the Temple, inspired by the exploration of my spiritual, as well as temporal, experience. If this post appears as unfamiliar territory, a sense of context can be gained here.

Introduction

I felt completely unqualified to make any remarks on this topic whatsoever; I am not confident that I have fulfilled my own hopes for spiritual preparation before starting to grow our family, let alone those of the Church. I still feel uneducated in the full doctrine, history and organisation of the Church, there are elements of Scripture that are still unknown to me and, despite considerable dedication, at the time of the talk, Samuel and I had not yet been sealed in the Temple (an outline of what this entails can be found here).

Other than suggesting that Heavenly Father enjoys irony, why was this topic assigned to me?

There is a considerable part of me that is always cynical, perhaps not an attractive quality, especially not typically admired in religious circles, but personally I think a pinch of metaphorical salt is healthy (literally from a nutritional point of view, not so much). In this instance, the cynic in me was thinking, ‘Sure you want me to talk on this, I am the current first time mum in the Ward’. However, being asked to speak in Sacrament meetings is not to be taken lightly, so I set about giving the topic some serious thought.

The conclusion I came to was that our little family presented an example of the principle ‘endure to the end’, and thus, that the work does not stop after receiving the sealing ordinance. Being sealed is an exciting prospect and full of spiritual significance but it is not the culmination, or defining feature, of a relationship or marriage. It is an increase in commitment to each other, not an opportunity to relax, at the risk of taking this blessing for granted.

Spiritual and Temporal Growth

I have frequently struggled with feeling that, despite what I consider my best efforts, I do not live up to the ideals of the Church, a sensation now exaggerated by preparing for parenthood; seemingly growing increasingly idealistic, judgemental and competitive. For instance, there are some that don’t yet classify me as being a mother, and others who would tell me that I am already doing everything wrong. I know that this is not a unique experience, and it applies to religious experiences too.

One of my favourite talks from General Conference is by Elder Holland from October 2017 ‘Be Ye Therefore Perfect… Eventually‘. Yes as a couple we are preparing for an eternal family, but everybody’s spiritual and temporal journeys are different. For me, I had hoped to have a stronger grasp of the doctrinal points of the Church and Scriptures before having children, but I also know that what is more important is that I continue to study and learn and I look forward to the fact that my child and I will be able to grow in the Gospel together.

Make Your Home Like the Temple

Looking back, I am still not sure exactly what the obstacle was to our initial sealing attempt in June last year (the delay of our second in June this year was due to the delights of pregnancy complications). We both held active recommends and I had just completed the Temple Preparation Classes (Samuel served a mission, so had done this years before). When there were changes to the Bishopric, however, we were told the date we had chosen was not feasible.

This was upsetting, not only because of our desire to be sealed as a couple for eternity, but because the date we had chosen held personal significance. But through the emotions, I received a strong impression that not being sealed at that time was because there was about to be a considerable change in our circumstances. Sure enough, a few weeks later, we found our house and moved away. For me, the change in location, and being in a more local Ward, has greatly strengthened me spiritually, has aided my recovery from mental illness and resulted in both of us feeling more settled, resulting in us preparing (now commencing) to grow our family.

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Announcing Your Pregnancy

Today, my husband and I announced my pregnancy. As is usual for us we are being unconventional and have not waited until the end of the first trimester to make this announcement.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. The tradition of waiting until your first scan is because this is considered concrete confirmation of the pregnancy. It is well established that the first few weeks is the time of highest risk of loss. However, any loss before the 20 week mark is classified medically as miscarriage and waiting until 3 months is sadly not a guarantee.

2. Pregnancy announcements are personal. There should not be rules about when and what time is the most suitable to share your excitement with others. You may choose to announce it as we did, in person to family, close friends and work managers and then on a social media platform to more distant friends and acquaintances.

You may feel that it is easier and more equal to tell everyone you know at the same time via a public announcement. This way no one feels that they were the first or last to find out or that another friend was favoured.

There are also those who choose to keep their pregnancy completely private and this is a fine choice too.

3. The physical effects of pregnancy will already be apparent to the expectant mother and her close family. This is a planned pregnancy and as you may imagine of someone who is extremely anxious, I had been researching since we got married various stages of pregnancy and parenting. But even what accumulates to 2 years worth of reading and listening to other women’s stories in no way prepared me for the effects of early pregnancy.

Although there are no outward signs and I have been extremely fortunate to (so far) escape morning sickness; the exhaustion, nausea and digestive occurrences, are more than I ever anticipated. I also did not expect the cramping!

As a result of all of this, and the work that I currently do which involves performance storytelling and entertaining, I wanted my managers and colleagues to be aware that there were occasions that I was suffering intense discomfort and I wanted them to know why. It was also important for me to have my place of work informed of the pregnancy in case there were complications or loss.

As I do not sit at a desk were I could discreetly relieve myself if I developed intense morning sickness (or any of the other delightful digestive effects) I needed them to be aware that this wasn’t a 24 hour sickness bug but something that would go on for months. For this same reason, in the dreadful instance of pregnancy loss I would not be able to put on a smile and entertain and this would impact my work more extensively than in other lines of work.

This may come across as unattached or overly focused on negative outcomes, but rather than seem disengaged, the intention is to demonstrate how your circumstances will inform your personal choices throughout pregnancy, including the announcement.

4. Whilst I completely understand and respect that this is a very private matter, as a blogger intent on exploring her personal mental health and wellbeing more generally, I would always be inclined to be open about any loss during this pregnancy. Of course I hope to goodness that this will not be the case, and we would both be devastated if it did occur. But I advocate being open about all things and miscarriage is still widely treated as a taboo subject. Great headway is being made in conversing about other forms of emotion, grief and mental health, but for something as frequently occurring as pregnancy loss there is still alarming silence.

5. It is common to announce pregnancy on special occasions, public holidays or anniversaries. Whilst any day of the year is a fine time to announce such wonderful and well-received news, such occasions can add an additional sense of celebration and provide more ideas for a fun public announcement.

For instance, in our case, our first midwife appointment fell two weeks after we learnt that we were expecting and just before Easter.

As a religious family, Easter is an important time for us. It is the Christian celebration of Christ’s resurrection after His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Because of the atonement (remembered on Good Friday) we are able to repent and be forgiven. This is a celebration of second chances and new life. It’s one of the reasons for chicks and eggs being motifs of Easter.

Hares, which have become rabbits in modern Easter marketing, are associated with the ancient fertility goddess, Astarte or Ishtar. Again we are looking at representations of new life. New life coupled with fertility symbols made an irresistible possibility for a pregnancy announcement.

6. So don’t hesitate to announce your pregnancy at a time and in a way that suits you because of conventions and traditions. Each individual, pregnancy and family is different and that should be reflected in the way that you choose share your joy with others. There are so many contradictory opinions being continually expressed about the right way to be pregnant and to parent that the sooner you start establishing the best way for you, the better.

14th February

This date is like Marmite: people either ‘love it or hate it’. It’s the day were everyone is focused on relationships. My husband and I are approaching our second wedding anniversary, but we hadn’t even met this time two years ago.

Our Story
My husband and I met whilst I was investigating The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was a life-long member, a returned missionary, and I had just started meeting with the missionaries. The timeline is simple.

February
Most people laugh when I tell them the story of how I met the missionaries. All converts get asked their story and mine is not particularly exceptional. They laugh because I remember the exact time. It was 11:50 A.M. on the 4th February 2016. My friend and I were about to deliver graded presentations and had two hours to practice (we were both suffering from undiagnosed depression at this time and had finished them the night before).

An Elder asked me for directions to Sainsbury’s outside the university library. Obviously, he didn’t actually want directions, he wanted to talk about Jesus. I am terrible at disengaging from any form of conversation. It doesn’t matter if it is a sales person, a Mormon missionary or a charity worker, once they have stopped me and started their spiel, I can’t escape. I was desperate to get rid of him because I was preventing my friend from practicing her presentation and I really didn’t want her grade to be affected because I couldn’t disentangle myself from a pavement conversation. To end the conversation I gave him my number. In fact, I corrected him when he wrote it down wrong. This was because I felt sorry for him. His companion (I didn’t know anything about Mormons at this point and didn’t realise missionaries travel in pairs) was standing at a distance and I thought he was alone on a cold day in February. I also imagined (again wrongly) that most people had not been very pleasant about being stopped and asked to chat about Jesus Christ. It turns out this is not an unreasonable assumption, one of my husband’s companions was chased by a man with a meat cleaver! Anyway, in February I started meeting with the missionaries and investigating the Mormon church.

March
I finally attended a Sunday service at the local LDS church. The missionaries told me that they wanted to show me a church film at our next meeting and someone of the same sex as the Elders would need to be present. This was because we would be meeting at the church building rather than in a public place, like a café or the local park. It’s the same principle as adults who work with children not being with a child alone and it’s the same when two Sisters meet with a male investigator. It’s not a lack of trust it is just for security because unfortunately in the past there has been inexcusable behaviour from both missionaries and investigators. The reason that it is a member of the church of the same sex as the missionaries is because it otherwise appears a bit like the worst double-date imaginable. However, there is something that perhaps needs to go on record and be considered.

This was the second time I was going to be meeting with the missionaries at the church and the first time had been dreadful. It was, in my opinion, worse that the worst double-date that I can imagine. I was not in a good place at this time. I had been in an awful, manipulative relationship and a whole host of other instances of sexual harassment and assault had followed. Then I turned up at the church (I hadn’t been to a service yet) and was met by three men. The two missionaries I had met before, the third man I knew was going to be there but I had never met him. They decided to start by giving me a tour of the building but for some reason hadn’t turned any of the lights on… I was in a gloomy building with three men I had met twice or not at all. The man they’d brought along to help teach was silent almost the entire time. When they showed me the font I stood as far away as possible because I honestly wasn’t sure what they were going to do next. I had gone through five months of traumatic experiences involving men and this was not a positive encounter for me. But then along came Samuel.

April
This was the month that I got baptised, on the 21st April 2016. I already had a belief in God when the missionaries stopped me in February. What I had never had was the spiritual connection that I had heard people talk about, when people say that they were in conversation with God. I did find that with the LDS church which is why I became a member. As I mentioned in a previous post my conversion was not complete at this time, but I was convinced that this was where I was supposed to be, perhaps because I had found someone I wanted to be there with.

I didn’t join the church for Samuel, but there is a possibility that I wouldn’t have joined if I hadn’t met him. When I was in my baptismal interview, I was asked whether I believed that the gospel had been restored to earth. I responded that I wasn’t sure. In short, I wasn’t convinced. I knew that I was finally in a good place and that I was beginning to feel spiritually good once more (I hadn’t been to a church since I left home for university and I had begun to feel disconnected with my faith which truly saddened me). The Elder conducting the interview was very concerned by this, the interview that usually took around fifteen minutes took about two hours for me. It’s safe to say that despite popular belief I didn’t join a cult. The Elder asked me what would happen if I decided that the Book of Mormon was not true (if it were a cult they wouldn’t have been willing to have members who didn’t believe core parts of the doctrine) and I told him it wouldn’t matter. Now we are at the part where most people get confused. How can you be part of the Mormon church and have doubts about the book the church is named after?

For me the answer is really simple. The lifestyle that comes with being a Mormon: going to church on Sunday; not working, shopping or going out to dinner or the cinema on a Sunday; not drinking alcohol, tea or coffee; not smoking or taking drugs, was going to be my lifestyle now. Samuel and I were engaged to be married.

It was not the whirlwind romance that you might be expecting. I really don’t know how this man did it. He met me at the lowest point in my life (between his proposal and our wedding day I had almost dropped out of university, was given the opportunity to postpone my dissertation and final exams for a year and had seriously considered suicide). I had almost completely lost my sense of humour and believed that there was no part of me that was worth loving. Samuel and one of his brothers lived together at this time and I was living in their living room because if I was left alone there was a significant chance that I would cause myself harm. For me, that he could fall in love with me and give me constant care when I was almost incapacitated by my own mind makes him very special. I should also mention that we had discussed and agreed that we would get married even if I never joined the church.

What prompted me to say ‘Yes!’ when he proposed three weeks after we met, was the conversation we had when we decided to risk entering into a relationship. I say risk solely from my perspective. I had been through a lot in a very short amount of time and had not had a positive relationship in over three years. The last proper relationship I had been in before the disaster of 2015 ended with a broken engagement. Before you panic, I had known this man a lot longer and we had been in a steady relationship for a lot longer as well. But it all ended in tears. The man I walked out on in 2015 had cried too, hysterically (but I’m not sure about that as he raped me a few minutes later). Anyway… the point was that I was worried that I was going to take the heart of the lovely man I’d just met and metaphorically jump up and down on it until it was pulp. That was how I saw myself – a relationship wrecker and heart destroyer, unworthy of love.

What changed everything was his quiet acceptance of how I was feeling. That he was willing to give me space and time to heal. He still does. This was a huge contrast to what I had experienced over the past few months. A friend had asked me out and started sending hurtful text messages when I politely declined. A fellow student and I had dated briefly, but I decided it wasn’t a good idea two months before our dissertations were due and we broke up a few days after going out. This student then proceeded to message and call me. One night I was at the house of one of the youth from the church with a lot of other investigators and new converts watching Disney movies and he called me seven times in a row. This was about a week after Samuel and I first met. With all that was going on I guess I needed to offload to somebody and he was kind and close enough to listen. When we were sitting in my flat a week later, talking about whether or not we should risk dating, he told me that he’d wanted to ask me out earlier, but when I had told him everything that was going on he didn’t because he could see that I didn’t need anyone else telling me that they liked me; that I just needed a friend.

That’s what we are. Best friends. We both collect rocks, are academic geeks who love their respective subjects and Star Trek. Samuel is good at maths and I’m the one who reads and writes all day. We have the same attitudes, hopes and dreams. He is the only man I have ever met who put my needs before his own desires. That’s why I married him three months after we met. We don’t suggest others rush out and do the same, but it worked for us. We eloped to Gretna Green and since that day I have started to get better. It has taken a really, really, really long time but with the support and love of a very patient man, I know that my tomorrows will continue to get brighter.

 

 

Debates within Poetry

Poems that speak directly to each other, or address a specific individual are amongst my favourites. I find them to be the most powerful, probably because the writer was so driven when they were written. I took English Literature for A Level and one of the texts was The New Oxford Book of War Poetry. Our course focused on the First World War. Not only is the poetry of that time incredibly moving, direct and blunt, the majority was written with a distinct purpose: revealing the brutality and futility of conflict. It is therefore necessarily graphic and emotionally charged.

Rupert Brooke and Charles Sorley

Edited by Jon Stallworthy, War Poetry begins with Biblical narratives and the epic war poems of Ancient Greece, and continues through time to poems penned during the Cold War. The anthology marks changes in warfare and attitudes to it. Before the outbreak of the First World War warfare was predominantly celebrated, romanced and glorified. By 1915 the poetry from the trenches was making sure that attitudes changed. The graphic imagery made it impossible to romanticise. Two poems that mark this change are The Dead by Rupert Brooke and Millions of the Mouthless Dead by Charles Hamilton Sorley. Both of these poems are sonnets, Brooke wrote several sonnets, taking the traditional form of love poetry and using it to demonstrate love or romance of war. Sorley’s sonnet is a response to the style of Brooke’s poetry. In The Dead, Brooke speaks of death making ‘us rarer gifts than gold’ whereas Sorley’s opening word is ‘Millions’ emphasising that there is no glory and that ‘is [it] not curses heaped on each gashed head?’ Brooke says: ‘Honour has come back’, whilst Sorley writes: ‘Nor Honour. It is easy to be dead’. Sorley’s rebuttal of Brooke’s poem is evident.

Wilfred Owen and Jessie Pope

One of the most famous poets of the First World War is Wilfred Owen. In one of his best remembered works Dulce Et Decorum Est Owen addresses a now obscure contemporary female writer, Jessie Pope. It should be noted that her war poems are not included in the anthology, although they would have provided contrast to the (12) female voices who give a less romantic portrayal of war. In her poem Who’s For A Game?, Pope pens: ‘Your country is up to her neck in a fight, And she’s looking and calling for you’. This echoes the sentiment of the Odes of the Roman poet Horace from whence the title of Owen’s poem is taken. Translated from Latin to English, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori means: ‘it is sweet and right (proper) to die for one’s country’. Owen accuses Pope of lying to children, ‘If you could hear [the effects of gas]… My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children… The old lie…’. The motif of a game is a common device in patriotic poems to encourage young men to sign up for war, for instance in Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem, Play up! Play up! And play the game!

A Poem of My Own

As I am posting on a Sunday, something that I wasn’t sure about doing having joined a church that advocates strict observance of the Sabbath, I thought I should post something relevant to scripture. (In an effort to put any concerned minds at rest, I wrote the majority of this post yesterday). This poem presents two sides of a debate, representing a teenager’s struggle with the law of chastity (premarital sex).

Be with me, my darling love, until the waters cover the sea

I

Aren’t devout servants wished by our Sovereign Lord?
How obedient is marked rebellion?
Then why this reluctant chastity, so fraud?
I wish to admire but one Creation
And in so doing – worship its Creator.
Too young for marriage are we, by elders, deemed
Intent to be a dusty room’s curators.
Now it is less important than it seemed
This white band of metal is freely given.
If this law’s to prevent promiscuity,
Then know that my desire is by love, driven.
Be assured that I shall love you faithfully
I have vowed that I will know no other thus,
And by this act with you – I display my trust.

II

It’s considered an outdated tradition,
Yet still one that resonates in my heart
It’s part of my faith – making it part of me.
By understanding, my doubts, your worth is proved:
Respecting, conserving and even loving
My decision – despite your own frustration.
My heart is set, I’m yours ‘til death us do part
Even if yours changes, mine will constant be.
None can take your place, nor make my heart so moved
By a single touch, word or by saying nothing.
Dead would my heart be without you, my sun, my star;
Our parting, my heart, would permanently scar.
So Love, don’t leave me but come away tonight
Forget the world – for together, we are right.

This is one of the poems that I am the most unsure about. As I have mentioned in previous posts I don’t usually construct poems or consciously use literary techniques as I have here and I would really welcome any comments about how the poem presents.

 

Dreaming of the Temple: Part 2

If my last post was about Why (it wasn’t supposed to be it just came out that way) then this post is more along the lines of how. Not the mechanics of blogging (there are lots of good posts out there containing tips for new and future bloggers) but about the way I decided to go about my blog.

I settled on a name long before I decided to take the plunge and start sharing my thoughts and feelings on the internet. Dreaming of the Temple. For me it means a lot of things. I suppose it also represents the gradual evolution of the blog itself. My initial idea was to create a blog based around spirituality. More specifically my own encounters with missionaries and eventual conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (popularly known as Mormons – not the ones with multiple wives, before you ask).

In The Church of Jesus Christ, the Temple is a very real, physical place. It is considered sacred and the ordinances and ceremonies that take place inside the building are not discussed beyond its walls. Some feel very uncomfortable about this (we are quite often referred to as a cult) but in reality it is just a continuation from the doctrinal principles that can be found in any aspect of Church literature, should you be so inclined to read it. The ultimate ordinance is known as a sealing. In essence, it is the belief that whilst marriage is ‘until death us do part’, a sealing makes that marriage last for eternity. I like to think of it as putting a GPS tag on my husband, making it easier to find him after we die.

Without turning this into a debate on the reality of life after death and the various different attitudes and perspectives surrounding the subject of religion, the crux of this initial blog idea was to map my journey to the Temple. I have been a member since the 21st of April 2016, but my conversion was certainly not complete when I got baptised. I had faith that that was were God wanted me to be, and that it was the Church I was meant to join, but a number of the doctrines were very far from what I had been brought up believing. Therefore, in this instance Dreaming of the Temple is very literal; I wanted to get there, but sometimes it seemed almost impossible.

In addition to being a literal place, the Temple itself is highly symbolic. Almost every aspect of the building, its interior and the artwork displayed, represents something more than its physical self. The Temple is not just a place to feel spiritually close to God, it is also a place to feel close to family. The Church of Jesus Christ places great emphasis on the importance of family and the majority of the ordinances performed inside the Temple concern living or deceased relatives. My husband and I have a great many hopes for our own family, so whilst this was initially about me dreaming of going to the Temple, it is also about the dreams that the Temple represents.

Shortly after baptism all Church members receive a patriarchal blessing. This is a blessing from a senior member of the Stake that is intended to provide guidance throughout your life. In my blessing it was advised that I endeavour to make my home like the Temple. As I started to think more seriously about actually creating a blog, not just scribbling notes on scraps of paper, I realised that whilst my spiritual struggles might have been a primary motivation for me, they probably weren’t that worthwhile. After about a year of indecision, my husband and I graduated from university and bought our first house. This was an exciting prospect and as we both grew up in the countryside we were glad to move out of the city. As ever, there were a number of small interior projects to undertake to fully make the property feel like our home. We discovered many characteristics of the house that had been covered over and concealed. Amongst these were several fireplaces, original woodwork and historic wallpaper. I thought these might have the potential for some blog material.

But that material would be about converting a house into a home. What making your home like the Temple really means is emulating the atmosphere of the Temple; as a peaceful place of rest, somewhere to find solace, filled with love, joy and happiness. When you go to the Temple, even if its just stepping into the grounds, the peace becomes almost tangible, and you are able to stop caring about all the concerns or worries that you had before. You are there with one purpose and all the deadlines, commitments and to-do lists have no part in it. Prayer is very similar to meditation; it is reflective, focused and has been found to relieve stress. In the ideal, the home should be the same. The door should close and work should be left outside or, if you work at home, left at a specific place of work. One of the principles of mindfulness is having specific rooms for specific purposes.

So Dreaming of the Temple is both literal, symbolic and is about striving for tranquillity within the home and within the self. For me that is one of the biggest challenges in looking to fulfil my patriarchal blessing. I have enjoyed our DIY projects; decorating, gardening and furnishing our home over the last few months has been a really fun marital project. I would always hope that any visitor would feel welcomed, happy and be able to sense the love in our home. But I am not a calm person. I have always had anxiety, my biggest flaw is a quick temper, and since developing depression my emotions have surged and dipped more than ever. It was this that led me to become truly serious about starting a blog. I have had various experiences with counselling, some good and some bad, and I know that I am very self aware. I am a very open person and frequently talk about my mental health and other life experiences, but it can still be difficult to talk to friends and family. There are always feelings that you are burdening others, that you might be judged, or that they don’t completely understand how you feel or what you are/have been going through. I was after a space to explore why I felt the way I felt, to be able to dissect some of the more traumatic experiences in my life and to spend time appreciating what I have. The primary aspect of my blog now is mental health.

I am still not up to speed, or particularly confident about blogging. It’s something that I have been contemplating for a number of years and its concept has changed several times. It is very daunting and in the words of Winnie the Pooh:

‘you find sometimes that a Thing that felt quite Thingish inside you
is quite different when its out in the open and has other people looking at it’
( A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, 1928)

But I hope that all the different things that I am personally exploring; my mental health, my efforts to become a calmer, more tranquil person, the physical changes to our home, the preparation to have a family, will be encompassed by the blog name, Dreaming of the Temple.