An Eye Single to the Glory of God

Once, many years ago, I went to the temple feeling overwhelmed and stretched in too many directions. I prayed, hoping the Lord would sort through it all and tell me my priorities. How was I to balance being a good mother, wife, scientist, home maker, saint,…on and on and on? My hope was that the Lord would take some of those things off my list by telling me they weren’t really that important. My actual answer was, “keep your eye single to the Glory of God.” 

What is the Glory of God? I thought, and I knew instantly that it was us—His children. I thought of all the things God does for us, how He lifts and teaches.

My to-do list started to change from tasks to people. I thought of the people I served, those I loved and sought to help, and what kind of help they actually needed. When I viewed the people, the tasks started to change. 

For example, I hate doing dishes, but I love my children and we need to eat off of clean dishes for several health reasons. This seems like a necessary service to give my family. Yet, when I thought of the service my children needed, it was not clean dishes that came to mind. It was time spent with their mother and learning. If they could cook and clean with me, we would be spending important time together and they could learn and grow.

This all sounds beautiful in theory, and in my head it was exciting. In practice, however, not so much. The tasks were too complicated for them. They worked very slowly. They would rather watch TV. Remember, this impression came to me years ago, and I’m still working on it. 

I keep trying to make chores a team sport and focus more on teaching them and encouraging them instead of having it perfectly cleaned and totally finished. My ultimate goal would be that I don’t do chores by myself—the house is lived in together and cared for together—but I am not there yet. 

What I have kept, though, is that perspective of seeing people over tasks. Time together over appearances. This mental shift did a lot to ease the stress and anxiety I had been feeling and gave me a new approach in how to prioritize and think through my daily tasks. 

As I’ve worked on this, I’ve realized it’s not the tasks I need to let go of, it’s the expectations and the worry about how other people see me. 

I’ve found that I’m not always focused on the people that I want to lift and strengthen because I’m worried about the people watching. There are expectations I have put upon myself, not because they are what I need to do to lift someone, but because they are what I need to do to look good. It’s not that I’m vain—I know I’m not the best. What I want is just to belong. I want people to like me, even if the expense is stretching myself too thin, taking on too many tasks. In fact, I did this just last month.

So, how do I pull myself back? I’ve decided to look for people to lift, not for people to please. I think of my relationships and ask what I can do to lift this person?

A quick side note: it is an incorrect definition of power that says one person can only rise if another falls. When done correctly, power is cumulative. When one rises, we all rise. Lifting another doesn’t mean you offer them your back to step on. People may think they need things, or things done for them, but that’s not necessarily true and it might not be in your ability to give. Just like I needed to focus on people over appearances, I need to be sure I’m offering a true lift from connection and love and not a temporary fix. 

Sometimes, they need a bit of help, but more often than not, they just want someone to listen. Most people just want a little bit of praise and some compliments. Some, like me, want to be involved, and they are the ones I get to ask for help. In return, I get what I really wanted. I belong with these people because we have built a connection and a lasting relationship based on care and understanding. 

Unity Against All Odds

Unity can be found where we least expect it and scars removed from wounds that we ignored.

One of the wonderful women I knew in Michigan once spoke about her father and learning what it meant to “honor thy parents” even when you don’t think that parent deserves much honor. We naturally assume that honoring our parents involves obeying them, so what do you do if your father is an alcoholic and you have no respect for him? That was her situation, and so she thought the commandment didn’t fully apply in her case—until she reconciled with her father. If I remember right, he was still an alcoholic at the time of their reconciliation, and she was a woman with children of her own, but with the age of wisdom she was able to see him differently, as a child of God with pain and hurt, who had hurt others, and was still in need of love and honor. She didn’t go into a lot of detail about what exactly she had learned from the Spirit, but she did say repeatedly that she learned how to honor her father.

Her situation was so similar to mine, I began to yearn for what she had learned. I, too, wanted to honor my father. I had always thought of myself as having no father. To me, that commandment was easily applied to my mother, my Heavenly Father, and later my step-father but never to my biological father because he barely existed. 

I have seen pictures of him holding me when I was a baby, but because I don’t remember those times, I say that I met my father once when I was seven years old, spent one day with him, and never saw him again. He took me to an amusement park. I remember being very excited to meet him because I had a picture of him in my room—that was all he was to me, a picture—and he was going to come to life. We rode a lot of rides, he let me pick and choose, he showed me a picture of my half-sister. I wanted a sister more than anything. I asked him if I could keep the picture and meet her one day. He said he would find a way for us to visit him at the same time and get me my own picture, but I couldn’t keep that one because it was his only one. He got mad at me at dinner because he asked me if I liked a present that he had sent to me. I hadn’t realized the present was from him and he was angry at my mom for taking credit for it. I knew my mother would never do something like that, it was more likely that she told me but that I didn’t notice or realize—he was a picture, pictures don’t send presents. I still firmly believe that she told me he sent the present but to my seven-year-old self it was like she was saying it was from Santa Clause. But he was mad, and, being a child, I blamed myself. A magical day that left me feeling a bit empty. I think on some level, even at seven years old, I realized that he could only offer me temporary shiny things. When it was something important, it was withheld, as if he couldn’t quite find it in himself to give it to me. And even at that young of an age, I was very protective of my mother, so he scared me. On another level, I wanted him to keep his promise, I wanted him to keep arranging visits, let me meet my sister, give me more presents and this time I would know they were from him, because now he was real. But as time went on, and nothing else ever came, that part died. 

When I asked my mother, why they divorced she said, “I thought he was an alcoholic, but he disagreed.” That was essentially how she handled the whole situation. If I asked a question, she would answer it honestly with no judgement. She didn’t say he was an alcoholic, only that she thought he was. She didn’t say he was dangerous, only that he disagreed with her. I now don’t think he was ever abusive towards her, but when I was younger, I remained unsure. She wanted me to make up my own mind, but because I didn’t know him that was very hard to do. She also didn’t offer much information, other than “he loved lima beans,” and “his favorite game was backgammon.” She told me later that she didn’t know what to share or when, so she was waiting for me to ask the questions, but I didn’t always know what questions to ask or I started to get old enough to realize the answers were awkward.

At about 14 years old, I wanted to meet him again, but my mom couldn’t find him. She found a phone number for his parents, but they didn’t know where he was either. I asked her about my half-sister. “Did you know that I have a half-sister? Did you ever meet her?”

“Yes, I knew you had a half-sister, but I never met her,” she answered. Her face was turned down towards the kitchen sink and she didn’t look up at me as she washed the dishes. “How did you know you about her?”

“My dad showed me a picture of her that one time he took me to the amusement park. I can’t remember her name, do you know? I also can’t remember if she’s older or younger than me.”

“I don’t remember her name, I’m sorry, but I think she’s right about your same age.” She turned away from the sink and started wiping the kitchen counter. I knew enough not to touch that last comment, though it was confusing.

“I just thought maybe she or her mom would know where he was, but I guess since we don’t know her name…”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know her name.”

There are some questions that are just too hard to ask.

When I was 19, after my mother’s diagnosis with breast cancer and right before she medically retired from the Navy, she tried one more time to use some Naval resources to find my father. She found an address in Bountiful, Utah.

“You should try it,” she said. “It’s a year old, so he might not be there anymore, but it’s still worth a try.” 

She always believed it was important for a child to think well of his/her parents and to know them as much as they could. She would never say anything bad about him, even if that meant not talking about him much, and she wanted me to know him. But by that time, I didn’t want the risk. I was less desperate for the escape he offered. I was already so broken from her diagnosis; I didn’t want to feel anymore hurt. If he was at this address, we would probably have a nice conversation, go out to dinner, and then what? Another shiny thing that left me empty. The potential reward seemed too small when compared to the near certain pain that would follow. I never tried that address.

Another decade later, and I’m in Michigan listening to a story with similarities to mine but with a happy ending. It didn’t matter that this other father didn’t turn into a model parent. I wanted the peace this other daughter found. I pushed it down, thinking it would never happen because I had no idea how to find my father and attempt a reconciliation. Oh well, not that big of a deal anyway, I reasoned. I’ve moved on.

About three years after this, my half-sister found me on Facebook. 

Her private message had my mother’s name and my birthday and asked if I was the right Christen. I was surprised she knew that much about me and I had no idea who she was. When she told me she was my half-sister, I was excited and curious how she knew those details. She had spent more time with our father than I had, though he still was gone for long stretches of time. She was able to find him, however, when he was living in Alaska and went to visit him there. When she realized how sick he was from congestive heart failure, she brought him home to live with her for the last two years of his life. She loved having that time with him. 

I was glad he had her, a bit jealous that she had more time with him and the reconciliation I wanted but was too afraid to have. She connected me with other family members of which there are many, and the more I spoke with her and met some of my aunts and uncles, the more my jealousy grew and the angrier and more hurt I became. The old wounds were reopened, and I found it difficult to actually become a member of this family. My half-sister is two days younger than me, and suddenly my mother’s hesitation made more sense, but I was also mad at her for not being more open and honest with me. She left me in ignorance, and I had to find this out and deal with the repercussions on my own without her wisdom and guidance. I started to hate my father again, all I could see were his mistakes, the things he had denied me, and the consequences my mother and I had to live with. 

I didn’t want to deal with that hurt again. It was easier to close the wound, cover it up, ignore it, and go back to ignorance. I was fine as I was. I had my mother’s family, my step-family, and my in-laws. I didn’t need or want anything else. What was the point of a reconciliation now?

But when my half-sister told me that he had died my first thought was, You could do his work for him. He and his entire family are Catholic and while I do not know the level or commitment of their faith, there is a doctrine in my Church that baptisms and other covenants must be performed by proper Priesthood Authority which is only found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some find this belief offensive, and I’m sorry for that. I too have had to struggle with this requirement when I see so many individuals of other faiths that I consider to be wonderful and faithful and gloriously spiritual. Through my questions and struggles with God, I have come to see incredible beauty in His Priesthood and the Covenants that we can make with Him and they are special to me. I do not think this diminishes the beauty of other people in the eyes of God. He offers wonderful things to all His children. 

The covenants we make with God in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be made by proxy for those that have passed on and they are able to accept or reject the covenant in the Spirit World. Again, some find this offensive and problematic. I understand that point of view, but I hope that you can view this work as an expression of love as it is intended. Similar to how others light candles for the beloved dead or give them offerings. These proxy covenants are offerings of extreme love and they are our way of reaching beyond death to serve others without the barriers of time or mortality. 

If you can see this as a gift of love, perhaps you can then understand my hesitation in actually performing the work. I have no doubt it was the Spirit prompting me to take my father’s name to the temple and give to him the ultimate gift symbolizing my hope and desire for our future reunion. In my pain, anger, and confusion, I simply did not want to do it.

I covered the wound back up and went on with my life until April of 2018 when Elder Renlund gave a talk in General Conference about family history work. He said, “When God directs us to do one thing, He often has many purposes in mind … God, in His infinite capacity, seals and heals individuals and families despite tragedy, loss, and hardship.” As I listened to his talk, I felt keenly the promise that my wound would be completely healed, not just scabbed over, if I would undertake this work. Still, I procrastinated. Six or seven months later, we studied this talk in a Relief Society meeting at church. I felt that the promise of healing was mine for the taking, I just needed to go and claim it. If I wanted to know what my friend in Michigan learned through her reconciliation with her father, I could. If I was jealous of my half-sister, there was no need because I could still have the peace that she did. It was not too late. 

I still didn’t fully want to. I didn’t want to reopen that can of worms when it could just remain shut. I didn’t fully understand what the benefit was, but, trusting that the Lord gives good gifts and keeps his promises, I reached out to my new family members and gathered the information I needed. It took some time, but as I worked on it and thought about what I was doing, my hesitation turned to excitement. 

The wound is open, and it is clean. I am ready to be made whole.

There is no barrier the Lord cannot cross. Death is no obstacle, nor any fracture too wide or deep. The only thing the Lord will not take from us is our agency. We must claim the promise. Trusting Him with our wounds can be hard, especially when they’re still hurting, and we don’t know how long until the relief will come. But hope is powerful too, and we can trust Him that our hope will never be in vain because He will heal us. 

Elder Renlund also quoted Ezekiel 47:8-9 in his address:

The waters (meaning the river coming from the House of God) issue out … and go down into the desert, and go into the [dead] sea … , [and] the waters (meaning the Dead Sea) shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: … for they shall be healed; and everything shall live whither the river cometh.”

The river has come to my heart and my heart lives and is healed. I want the river to reach to my father’s heart and beyond. It is the greatest gift that I can offer him. My forgiveness, my hope that he can be healed as I have been, is how I honor my father. 

It is also how I honor my Heavenly Father. Separations in this life can always be mended. Unity is built across all barriers, and it is never too late to find it.

Love Comes First

In his book, “In Faith and In Doubt,” Dale McGowan emphasizes shared values over shared beliefs, and I understand his point. I share values with many people who have different beliefs, and I share beliefs with people who have different values. I also think people have more values in common than they realize. But, to me, values and beliefs are linked. My beliefs impact my daily life because I live them in my values. When I married, I wanted it to be with someone who shared beliefs and values so we could help each other live those values more fully and grow in our beliefs.

I always thought my spouse was supposed to be the person with whom I had the most in common. The one I could trust above everyone else because he understood me better than anyone else. This understanding, I thought, would come from commonality. 

After his faith crisis, my husband seemed so different and far away. I asked myself, what is the most basic and necessary thing we have to have in common and how much commonality is sufficient for us to continue in a marriage?

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a unique doctrine concerning the Godhead which differs from the Trinity. The characteristics of God are the same. However, we believe in three separate beings, each with their own unique differences and roles, and yet completely united as to be One God. 

Their differences are necessary for the full and complete Plan of Salvation to be realized. Father, already Exalted and Supreme, had the knowledge and power to conceive and begin the plan. Christ, not yet exalted and universally loved, could show us how to complete the plan and become exalted as He now is. The Holy Ghost, electing to stay as Spirit, is divinely able to be a testifier and comforter by speaking Spirit to spirit with us and live with us as we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. 

They each play their own part in their united plan to achieve their shared goal—the salvation and exaltation of God’s children.

I love the lessons of unity to be seen within the Godhead. Christ repeatedly asks that we be one with Him as He is one with the Father. He says if we are not one, we are not His. We cannot be one being when we are separate individuals. How are we to do this?  

We must be united in purpose and fulfill our roles in the Plan of Salvation. We are to embrace differences and use them to complete a whole that we could not do on our own. We are not all capable of performing the same roles. We all make up the body of the Church with our different talents, our different experiences and perspectives. The Godhead works together to complete the work of God. They have joined together on one common goal and have agreed upon the plan that will complete that goal.

What does this mean for finding unity with each other? Specifically, even though my husband and I had many values in common, were we still too different in our goals and our plans? Did we have a unifying purpose?

Growing up, I always felt too different and too alone. Being alone is one of my greatest fears. A bit ironic for someone who is as introverted as I am. I highly value time to myself but hate to be lonely. To lose my husband, my closest companion, made me feel severely lonely. 

I went to the temple by myself, and I felt even lonelier. There is a portion of the temple service that requires you to stand as couples, a man and woman together. Because I didn’t have my husband, I didn’t feel like participating, even though I wanted to. But here’s the thing, if you want to participate, you just stand up. Someone will come and stand with you. You don’t have to be married or even know each other. You just stand together. 

As the prayer was said, I felt the power of the faith of those present. We were all connected by it. Like a gold ribbon that pulsed and shone brighter as each person added their voice in a united prayer of faith, it ran through every person in the room, and then across temples and the world. I felt so connected to my Brothers and Sisters that all loneliness fled and was replaced by incredible love. I thought of the Brother that stood with me and wondered if that would happen in the next life too. If I had to go on alone, would one of my Brothers stand with me and help me when I needed it? Was I to leave my husband and know that doing so would not leave me alone because I would always have my Brothers and Sisters with me?

Suddenly, all the love I felt from all my Spiritual Family shifted and became focused on my husband. The Lord said, “I know it’s hard for you to love your husband right now, so, here, borrow some of my love for him and know that he is worthy.”

The only thing that could possibly be more amazing than feeling how much the Lord loves you is feeling how much the Lord loves someone else. 

I think of all the people who say they have similar goals—to improve our country, to help the poor—and yet, still can’t seem to work together. Sure, they can’t agree on the same plan to achieve those goals, but ultimately that’s because they do not love or respect those who could be their partners. 

When love and respect are present, common goals and an agreed upon plan can be found. These are the foundation for unity. It is hard work to carve away at your assumptions, fears, and pride. It takes a level of honesty that most of us run from. Love provides the fuel for that work. It is the most necessary component. 

My husband and I have many shared goals, though we might not phrase them or define them in the same way. We want our children to feel loved and happy, while learning responsibility, hard work, and generosity. Because we love and respect the other’s needs, we are able to find a plan of action that we both agree on and do our part in that plan. Love must come first.