Friday, August 29, 2014

Dear “Addi” I am about to be Excommunicated and I'm scared! (Part 1)

Dear “Addi”,

In the next few weeks, my Stake will be holding my disciplinary council. My Stake President has already told me that I will most likely be excommunicated. How do I prepare to face the council? If I am repentant, is Excommunication necessary? Im willing to change, I'm ready to change, Why isn't being disfellowshipped enough? I'm nervous for this council. What is going to happen when I get there? How will my life change after being excommunicated? How will I have the strength to withstand the temptations of addiction if I no longer have the gift of the Holy Ghost?

Scared but willing

Dear Brother,

Oh how I know these questions and feelings. I have reflected on and prayed about each of your questions many, many, many times. I think the easiest approach is to take them in order.

How do I prepare for my disciplinary council?

I'm not sure there is a way to prepare. It is going to be what it is going to be. And honestly, that is OK. It needs to be honest, humble, and completely real.  The hard truth is that you nor I would have need for a council at all had it not been for a series of bad choices. The true culprits in our lives are both Pride and Fear.

Pride drives us to think of ourselves and our own desires. It fills us with a false sense of confidence and a mistaken feeling of being invulnerable. It launches us head-first into lies and deceit. It feeds us with irrational and unfathomable impulses, all of which led us to making decisions that ultimately brought betrayal to the ones we love and led us to the breaking of sacred covenants. Pride tells us that we don't need a council and can handle this process on our own.

Fear is what Satan has used to keep us Idle and in check for so many years. He has spent countless hours and days telling us that if we follow our true Godly desire to escape this mess and confess, that our lives will fall apart. He has convinced us that we will lose our wives, our children, our homes, our friends, and even our membership. He has frightened us with the thought that we will end up sitting at the end of that large council table, staring at our peers as they decide our fate. Yes, fear keeps us in check by filling our minds with all we might lose and replaces it with a compromise… the loss of our souls. Fear tells us that a council will be scary and horrible and that we should run from it at all costs.

Walking into that council is scary. It was is one of the scariest things I have ever had to do but, this was a true rebirth for me. This was my opportunity to completely come clean and escape the snare and darkness of the adversary. So, I decided it was time to face my fear head on.

My Advice…. Be sincere, Be humble, Be Forthright and Be complete.

Your Humility and Sincerity are obvious signs that you are now ready to turn your life over to the Lord. Don't make excuses for your actions. Nobody in that room or out of it is responsible for your sins but you. Humbly accept your choices with a willingness to change. Humbly accept the council's decision as well. It will be bitter to actually hear those words leave the stake president's lips but it will be a blessing and a restart the likes of which you can get no other way.

Being forthright offers a willingness to answer questions directly without hesitation. Don't assume that you are entering a room filled with people that are trying to trip you up or catch you in a lie. It is exactly the opposite. You are not entering enemy's territory but instead, coming home to friends and family who want nothing more than to see you heal and whole. No one in that room is a stranger to sin. Truthfully, most of the men in that council will be in awe at your humility and willingness to go through such a difficult process.

Be complete. Don't set yourself up for failure by only sharing what you consider are the “Worst Offenses." Don't think that simply because you have confessed your darkest sins that the rest of them are automatically covered. The last thing you want is to have to return over and over to your Bishop or Stake President with new details to divulge. My council was about a month after my confession. In that month the onion layers began to unravel more and more. I was slowly able to open up and confess all of the issues in my past, dating back to when I was a child. This was a blessing for me. That month gave me time to realize that no stone should be left un-turned. And, since I assumed my fate would be excommunication, I might as well get it all out and have complete cleansing. And so that is what I did.

Remember, you are loved by the men in that room. They are your friends. I promise you there will be both tears and hugs as that council concludes.

Dear “Addi” I am about to be Excommunicated and I'm scared! (Part 2)

Excommunication part 2: "If I am repentant, is Excommunication necessary? I'm willing to change, I'm ready to change, so why isn't being disfellowshipped enough?"

First, I want to dispel a rumor about excommunication. As far as I know, there is no list of things a person might do that will trigger an automatic excommunication. There certainly are things that make it more likely, however there are always many factors that go into a council's decision including how repentant the individual is and what evidences he can provide that he has changed and turned his life away from sin. We have to remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about punishment. It is about compassion. The goal of every council is to help the member draw closer to their heavenly Father and take advantage of the atonement of Christ. The men in those councils carry a heavy responsibility as they administer the justice and mercy of the kingdom.

The church seems to have changed its stance in recent years on why and when an excommunication is favored over being disfellowshipped.  As a former Bishop I witnessed this change first hand and felt a real tenderness in this shift. But, to our great sadness, many of our excommunicated brothers and sisters simply never return to activity. Their reasons for inactivity may result from embarrassment, humiliation, loss of testimony, the struggle to recover from addiction and sin or any number of things. It’s my opinion that the church might have felt that they were doing some of these good saints a disservice by cutting them off from membership altogether. When they become excommunicated, their connection to the church may have felt severed and in that loss of connection came a lack of motivation and an increase of temptation from the adversary.

On the other side, those who are disfellowshipped maintain their membership. They have a lifeline of hope and a connection to support. They keep the gift of the holy ghost and are able to rely on his assistance when they are worthy of his influence during this difficult journey. I have no data to back up my assumptions but I would guess that there is a much higher level of retention with fewer excommunications.

That is not to say there aren't cases in which excommunication is necessary. Obviously there are. I am evidence of that. One could spend hours contemplating why this case ended in excommunication and that one ended in disfellowshipment. But, this is both a fruitless and useless waste of time. The reasons are so varied that trying to dissect them is foolishness. Each council is taken case by case and done completely in connection with the spirit. It comes by way of a great deal of discussion and prayer, weighing what is best for the individual.

My case was one such case. I lived with a pornography addiction most of my life. I lied to cover it up not just once but hundreds of times. I accepted assignments that I was not worthy of. And I ultimately committed adultery and broke the covenants I had made to my wife and my Father in Heaven. I believe my council could have gone either way if those were the only facts. But my good stake president and his counselors knew that this had been a plague in my life for more than a few months or years. They knew that I did not simply wake up one morning and trip into an affair. They understood that its root was a dark and corrosive addiction that had plagued me for most of my existence on this earth. And so after over an hour of private prayer in the stake president's office, they emerged with the decision of excommunication. I could not have been more grateful to hear those words. I almost think that it would have been a disappointed to have been disfellowshipped.

If I were to ask my stake president to share with me the process of the council, I imagine he would say something like this.

1. I met with the High council prior to your arrival and shared with them the very basics of your transgression.
2. You were invited to join us and I asked you to share in your own words what had happened, how you felt you got here, and where would you like to see your life moving forward.
3. I allowed the High Council to ask you questions, to which you answered honestly.
4. Two of the brethren were given the responsibility to restate your words to make sure that we all understood properly and that there were no misunderstandings.
5. We dismissed you and then spent 20 minutes discussing their thoughts, concerns, and love for you.
6. The stake presidency dismissed ourselves into the Office and spent the next hour in discussion and prayer. We went back to the Lord several times seeking his guidance.
7. After feeling confirmation of our decision we returned to the council and shared with them our decision and asked for a sustaining vote.
8. We invited you back into the room and shared with you the decision of the council.

This is the process. This is how a council works.

At the end of my council I was invited back into the room.  As I sat at the end of that large intimidating conference table next to my Bishop, who had come to be my advocate and support, I looked around and realized I was in a room full of friends. The decision of the council was announced and I was given a series of instructions to live by over the next year or more. We concluded with prayer.  I stood to exit the room… and was swamped by brethren who came to embrace me with tear filled eyes and whispering words of love and compassion. This was going to be a rebirth.

In a post council visit I asked my stake president, what was the deciding factor? He said, (I am paraphrasing his words) “We really struggled. We really truly wanted to err on the side of compassion and if possible only have to disfellowship you but we just didn't feel comfortable with that decision. So we went back to the Lord over and over trying to understand the conflict we felt. Then the first counselor offered an insight that helped us understand why the Lord needed excommunication for you. He Said, "Do you remember the story of Joseph Smith's leg when he was a boy? It was riddled with infection. The Dr. recommended a course of medicine at first but he could not guarantee that the infection would be completely eradicated and there was a chance it would flare up again. Then he said that there was a treatment that he could offer. It required opening up his leg and cutting out all of the disease. It needed to be rooted out completely in order to allow the leg the best opportunity to heal. Well, Brother Arnold is just like that diseased leg. We can't just treat his disease with an ointment. The infection has run far too deep and for too long for that. He needs to have the disease completely cut out. Excommunication, in this case, is his best chance to heal.”

With that, they had received both their understanding and their decision. And they were right. Excommunication was the right decision for me. Here's why:

1. I had filled my life with so many toxins over the years I began to believe there would be no way for me to recover. I felt my soul was lost. My eternity was taken from me. Excommunication represented a way to change that mind set. Only a complete loss of everything would help me to see an open door that was waiting for me off in the distance. And for the first time in my life, I wanted to walk through that door completely and totally worthy to do so.

2. Baptism is a physical representation of the spiritual rebirth I have been experiencing. So deep is the corrosion of one who has let themselves degenerate from pornography to lust to adultery, that although the process of repentance can cleanse me from my sins, I also needed this physical act to show to my wife, my leaders, my Savior and myself that I am truly willing to take upon me the name of Jesus Christ and to stand as a witness of Him and His Atonement.

Excommunication is not a punishment but a blessing. Those who see it for what it is know that it is not exile but instead, the death of a broken, sin filled life that can be used, if we choose, as an opportunity to truly be Born again.

Dear “Addi” I am about to be Excommunicated and I'm scared! (Part 3)

Excommunication part 3:  "How will my life change after being excommunicated? How will I have the strength to withstand the temptations of addiction if I no longer have the gift of the holy ghost with me?"

Yes… your life is going to change.  I'm not going to sugar coat this and tell you how wonderful excommunication is. It's not wonderful, fun, or something I would ever tell someone to seek after.

I'm going to break this blog into 2 parts……1, things lost and 2,things gained.

Things I've Lost from excommunication:

- My temple blessings and my sealing to my Wife and kids
- The Gift of the Holy Ghost
- The automatic trust of my wife
- My membership.
- My temple recommend
- My temple clothing
- My right to pay tithing
- My Ability to hold a calling
- The Sacrament
- The Priesthood authority
- The priesthood in my home
- The ability to give my children blessings
- The ability to baptize my soon to be 8 year old next year.
- My name on the records of the church (even the phone list)
- My account access
- The opportunity to volunteer to help at camps or projects without permission.
- Public Prayer at a church meeting
- The opportunity to bear my testimony in church
- The opportunity to teach a class or substitute.
- The respect of some of my ward family and peers.
- The ability to attend any stake function without feeling a thousand eyes
- The Moral authority to promise success or blessings when living the gospel
- The comfort that comes from knowing that if someone calls on you to pray.. you don't have to say I'm sorry… could I please pass today?
- The innocence of a 10 year old daughter who just can't understand why Daddy doesn't take the sacrament like everyone else.
-The Comfort of having a casual conversation and knowing you won't have to explain when someone asks you what your current calling is.
- Anonymity and privacy as the rumor mill speculates about your release and what kind of things you must have done that made it necessary.
- The safety of not having to dodge questions at family reunions about why you were released and what the church has you doing now.
- The once less than awkward run ins from the men who were at my council.
- The opportunity to speak at the funeral of someone I use to home teach.

Things I've Gained

- An Intimate knowledge of the Atonement
- A much richer closer relationship with my Father in heaven
- A clear, clean conscience
- A more loving and personal relationship with my wife
- A future that is not filled with uncertainties
- The knowledge of my Savior and his love for me
- A true lifting of the burdens that have weighed me down
- A change of heart
- A stronger desire to avoid temptation
- A full recollection of All my guilt
- The desire to faithfully and righteously serve in a calling
- A desire to have my sins washed away
- Empathy for other as they struggle
- A desire to help and share my story with any who find strength from it
- Instant reaction to fall to my knees when temptation or struggles cross my path
- A constant desire and willingness to do anything to regain my wife's full trust
- Excitement to be asked to do even the smallest thing in the church
-The Pornography 12 step program which has been my lifesaver
-The knowledge that I am not the only one who struggles with addiction. I am not alone.
- A vision of what my Father in Heaven has in store for me.
- Escape from the dark hole that has held me bound for so many wasted years of my life.
- An actual understanding that the Savior can absolutely lift, change and direct me when I let Him.
- The ability to feel the spirit in ways I have never felt before.
- A deeper respect for even the most humble callings in the church.
- The hope of one day entering the temple, fully worthy to be there and to partake of the blessings within
- the knowledge that my eternity is not lost.
- A full remission of my sins.
-I no longer feel guilty about serving in callings unworthily.
- The confession of addictions by loved ones that found courage to come forward through my example.
- A deep love for my priesthood leaders, family, and friends as they have rallied to support me.
- A new way of reading the scriptures filled with insights that I had never seen before.
- A testimony of the Rescuer of all mankind and his desire to save me once and for all.

Do I like being excommunicated? No. I wish with all my heart that I had never journeyed down this path. I never wanted this and I would give anything to change the pain I have caused so many, especially my wife. But, I'm here now. I can't change what has been done and I can't change the outcome. What I can do is not waste this opportunity.

I have made it my goal to gain every insight, learn every lesson, and practice every ounce of obedience that I can. I will not fail my wife nor my Savior again. I have had some of the most powerful spiritual experiences during this time. I feel closer to my wife and children then ever before and we truly have a stronger, more focused marriage.

Now, I want to be careful not to oversell this. This has been the hardest, most humbling, and most overwhelming year of my life. If there were any other way for me to learn these lessons, I would welcome it without hesitation. I wish I had chosen to learn wisdom in my youth. I wish had followed the examples of those who had gone before. I wish I had  listened to the stories of those who have made mistakes (including my own father) and not traveled this path myself.

But I am here. I wear my scarlet letter but… I have chosen not to let it define me.

For those who are willing to finally put their lives in order and truly live the gospel, then Excommunication may be necessary.

Excommunication will most likely be a year. And when you think about it,  a year is such a short period of time. The brethren will also have to wait at least one more year in order to have their priesthood and temple blessings restored.

Again.. Its only a year. If you are anything like me, then you have already wasted years and years of your life sitting in the mire, soaking up the filth. For 25 years of my life I have gorged on the filth of pornography. For 25 years I have played the game of “will I win the battle today?" For 25 Years I have professed to be a disciple of Christ only to privately respond to Satan's call and again lap up his vomit. It has been a 25 year waste of time. If the Lord requires me to give up 2 and a half years of my life to prove to him that I have turned away from sin and turned my life over to him, then I don't see that as a sacrifice any more than I do paying tithing. It is a tithe after all. All He is asking is for me to give him back 10% of what I have wasted... 2 and a half years for the 25 I have spent foolishly.

How do I live without the Holy Ghost?

It is true that when one is excommunicated, they lose the gift of the Holy Ghost. Some might ask, “How will I have the influence of the spirit if I have lost this precious gift?”.  In order to understand this we need to break down the mechanics of the way the spirit works.

One who has received the gift of the holy ghost after baptism, can have its influence with them throughout their life…… so far as they are worthy of it.

Well, when was the last time you or I felt worthy of the companionship of the spirit.? The truth is, we have not been worthy of it for a very long time. I lived with a dark cloud over my head every day of my life. Sure, there were moments of sunshine when I tried hard, but mostly I just watched the clouds waiting for it to rain.

The gift of the holy ghost gives baptized members of the church the blessing of the spirit with them Always. But what about Non- members? Are they just written off in the department of spiritual affairs? Of course not. If that were true we would see very little growth or progress from our missionary efforts.

They of course have the opportunity to feel the spirit when they ask for it and when the Lord feels they are worthy to receive it. They don't yet have the blessing of having it with them always, but they do get to feel its presence when He desires and when they are receptive to feel it.

I, essentially, am a non member. I do not have the gift of the Holy Ghost. But I can testify to you that I feel the spirit stronger in my life now, than I have for many years. Why? Because, I have finally repented. I have finally exposed my wounds to the air where they can heal. I have willingly turned my life over to my Savior. I have decided to place my future in His hands and accept the consequences for my actions.

Now, when I plead for the spirit to accompany me… I feel it. When I beg for a shield of protection against the adversary, I sense its presence immediately. My Father in heaven is aware of me and my efforts and for that… this non-member is being blessed with the spirit.

Once we free ourselves from the shackles of sin, we not only open ourselves up to the presence of the spirit in our lives, but we open the door to redemption. I'm reminded of the old painting with the savior standing at the door without the door knob. He is knocking and knocking… in my case he has been knocking for years and years. Of course, with the only door knob on my side of the door, what could He do but wait? And He did wait. Thank goodness He is patient. But, He would have kept waiting for years, decades, even eons if that is how long it took me to finally grab hold of the knob and turn. The spirit has now found my open door…. and He freely comes to lead me. I'm not wasting another second. What about you?