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Last week I talked about where we came from, this week we I’ll cover why we are here and the first step in where we are going.

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Birth/Veil

If we lived with God before we were born and were presented with this wonderful plan, why don’t we remember it? In the LDS church we refer to this as “passing through the veil” at birth. This “veil” prevents us from remembering what happened before birth. It is common for members of the church, when describing spiritual experiences to say “the veil was very thin”, etc.

Mortal Life

Once we have passed through the veil we are in the stage of the Plan called mortal life. We are all born with the Light of Christ, what many people refer to as a conscience. This Light influences us to seek for truth and righteousness in our lives.

I’ve spent a little bit of time studying faiths other than my own, and I believe that one thing almost all religions have in common is a belief that there are things we must do in this life to achieve hpapiness (whether that happiness occurs in this life or the next, or both). Through the prophet Joseph Smith, who restored the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth, all of the commandments necessary to achieve that happiness have been revealed. We not only need to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, but we must receive the necessary ordinances to live with Him again. Ordinances are sacred formal acts where we make promises to God and receive promises from Him in return.

In this mortal life it is necessary to receive the ordinances of baptism (symbolizing a new life and commitment), confirmation to receive the Holy Ghost (to receive divine help in following Jesus Christ), receiving the priesthood (the authority for men to perform ordinances and lead the church), the endowment, and being sealed to family and spouse. These ordinances are only available through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I will  describe each these ordinances in detail in future posts.

Spirit World

After death all the spirits of all of those who have ever lived upon the earth are sent to the Spirit World. The Spirit World is not Heaven in the traditional Christian sense of the word. It is where souls reside until they can be judged according to their works and sent to the appropriate Kingdom of God to reside for eternity.

Where is the Spirit World? We don’t know exactly, but the prophet Joseph Smith said that those who have died “are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith”. Prophet Brigham Young stated “Where is the spirit world? It is right here.”

What are the spirits like? Spirit beings have the same bodily form as mortals except that the spirit body is in perfect form (see Ether 3:16). Isn’t it exciting to think that all of the scars and battle wounds we have developed in this life will be eliminated when we die? In the Spirit World we will all have the same thoughts, attitudes, and feelings that we do on earth. (see Alma 34:34). We will have the same appetites and desires that we had when we lived on earth. All of our spirits will be in adult form. We were adults before mortal existence, and we will be in adult form after death, even if we were to die as infants or children.

What do we do in the Spirit World? Those who have received all of the necessary ordinances during mortal life are busy with the work of the Lord. Those were not given the chance to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and accept it are given the chance to do so at this time. Those who rejected the Gospel during Mortal Life, and/or those who reject it in the Spirit World will suffer for their sins because they did not accept the Atonement of Jesus Christ, an act which paid for the sins of all men, eliminating the need for us to suffer for our own mistakes.

I know the Gospel to be true, but sometimes it is difficult to essentially convey the message “This is the only way you can do it.” After thinking about this for a while, thinking about telling this to so many people that I respect and admire I felt a little bit stumped. Then I remembered what Jesus Christ said in Matthew 7:13-14:

13 ¶ Enter ye in at the astrait bgate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to cdestruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

14 Because astrait is the bgate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto clife, and few there be that find it.

This is not my Gospel, it is His. The necessity of these ordinances makes the work we do in the Temple of the Lord even more meaningful. We go back to the temple over and over to give those living in the Spirit World the opportunity to accept or reject the Gospel. How majestic is this Plan that provides all the spirit sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven the opportunity to choose to live with him again!

First, I have to say, thank you all so much for the wonderful things you said about my Sunday post last week. Special thanks to those who admitted that my writing helped them see the LDS faith in a better, positive light. Your words mean so much to me.

Now that I have that rather difficult post behind me, I needed to find somewhere to start. I have so many questions to answer, but in many ways the LDS faith has it’s own vocabulary and if I jumped right into the middle of things I might leave you all even more confused than when you started reading.

Then I went to sunday school for children (called Primary) and I realized that the first thing children in the church are taught at the beginning of each year is the Plan of Happiness (also known as the Plan of Salvation). I LOVE the Plan and I can’t think of any better place to start.

I got so excited that I made a little graphic to illustrate the plan as I write the 3 part series I will present in January. Hopefully it will help all of you better understand how the entire experience fits together.

The Plan of Salvation: Week 1

Premortal LIfe

We are going to start at the beginning. This is back before your senior prom, back before your first kiss, you haven’t learned how to ride a bike, you don’t know anything about tying your shoes… in fact we are going to go so far back in time that you haven’t even been born. This is before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, before the earth flooded over in the time of Noah, even before the time of Adam.

Before we were all born, we lived together as brothers and sisters with our Father in Heaven. It was during this period of time that we developed our identities and personalities. I like to think that Mozart played the piano a lot, Celine Dion walked around belting out songs all day long, and I probably did a lot of blogging.

One day, God called us all together and presented a Plan (see Abraham 3:22–26). It was a Plan that would bring happiness to all who chose to keep God’s commandments.  All who chose to follow the Plan would be sent to the Earth to receive a body and be tested. This test would provide each spirit with the opportunity to choose for themselves between good and evil.

Because all the spirits sent to earth would have agency (the absolute freedom to choose and act for ourselves), we would be making mistakes all of the time. We would need someone to help us be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ, the Firstborn Son of the Father in the spirit, covenanted to become our Redeemer and save us from our sins through the Atonement and Resurrection. (see Moses 4:2; Abraham 3:27)

Lucifer, our brother, and another spirit son of God, stepped forward and presented his own plan. He wanted to save all the spirit sons and daughters of God by taking away their agency, and have all the glory and power of God for himself. He rebelled against God, and all of those who chose to follow Satan (so many of our brothers and sisters were with him!) were cast out of heaven and denied the opportunity to come down to earth and receive a physical body in order to experience mortal life.

Once everyone had made the choice concerning who they would follow (Satan or God), it was time to get ready to come down to earth. I like to think that we all had a big party together because we were about to experience something new and exciting. You, me, all of us alive and reading this blog today had to wait thousands of years for our turn. And then, in April of 1985, my chance came! It was finally time for me to come to earth and have a body of my own!

Next week I’ll be covering mortal life, death, the spirit world. If you would like to learn more about the premortal life on your own, visit this page on LDS.org.

I’m writing this Sunday post as my first of 2009 because it is the most difficult topic I can imagine attempting to cover. I expect it to be quite controversial among the LDS readers, as garments are an extremely sacred thing to us, easily mocked and ridiculed by our critics. I expect many members of my faith to comment or contact me saying they think I am making a mistake in covering something so sacred in such a public manner. To you I say we cannot stick our heads in the sand, and we cannot let our beliefs and traditions be defiled by the critics. We can use our voices and our words to spread the truth. I don’t know if it will work, but I hope that addressing the topic will satisfy peoples curiosity and help them develop a sense of respect for something that is often defiled. It is my hope that in writing this post I will help people understand the LDS people just a little bit better.

To my non-member readers, to those who have either heard of the garment previously, or who are learning of it for the first time on this blog, I make a special request. I don’t know it if is possible that we have developed some odd sort of loyalty to each other. I open my heart and mind up to you, sharing the funny, sad, delightful, and special things in my life, and you in turn, become my friends. If this loyalty that I imagine really exists, I ask a special favor of you. Read this post, and let it be enough. I have not read them, for the church discourages us from doing so, but there are many sites out there that make light of our sacred things. They post pictures of the garments, they laugh at them, the pretend to understand them. But in spreading such sacred information to the world at large they prove that they know nothing about the LDS faith and the covenants we make. They laugh at us. They call us peculiar and we shake our heads in reply (sometimes a few tears escape in the act of shaking), and  in response we do nothing because it is God who will one day seek retribution for such acts of defilement.

Please, if you have questions, post them below, or email them to me. I will email you personally and we will try to come to an understanding together. Please don’t read those anti-mormon sites. Just… please.

Amanda, Kate, and Cate all asked specifically about the garment so I know it’s something on peoples minds. I won’t copy and paste an entire post often, but I feel it is necessary in order for me to keep from explaining more than is appropriate. Why is this? The garment, in my opinion can only be defined as sacrosanct. The following quote comes from lds.org.

Once people are endowed, they have the blessing of wearing the temple garment throughout their lives. They are obligated to wear it according to the instructions given in the endowment. Those who have been endowed in the temple must remember that the blessings that are related to this sacred privilege depend on their worthiness and their faithfulness in keeping temple covenants.

The garment provides a constant reminder of the covenants made in the temple. The garment should be treated with respect at all times. It should not be exposed to the view of those who do not understand its significance, and it should not be adjusted to accommodate different styles of clothing. When worn properly, the garment provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.

According to Boyd K. Packer: (Don’t just scroll through the story he tells, read it! It really helped me understand what the garment was before I received it.)

There may be occasions when endowed members of the Church face questions on the garment.

On one occasion one of the brethren was invited to speak to the faculty and staff of the Navy Chaplains Training School in Newport, Rhode Island. The audience included a number of high-ranking naval chaplains from the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths.

In the question-and-answer period one of the chaplains asked, “Can you tell us something about the special underwear that some Mormon servicemen wear?” The implication was, “Why do you do that? Isn’t it strange? Doesn’t that present a problem?”

To the chaplain who made the inquiry he responded with a question: “Which church do you represent?” In response he named one of the Protestant churches.

He said, “In civilian life and also when conducting the meetings in the military service you wear clerical clothing, do you not?” The chaplain said that he did.

He continued: “I would suppose that that has some importance to you, that in a sense it sets you apart from the rest of your congregation. It is your uniform, as it were, of the ministry. Also, I suppose it may have a much more important place. It reminds you of who you are and what your obligations and covenants are. It is a continual reminder that you are a member of the clergy, that you regard yourself as a servant of the Lord, and that you are responsible to live in such a way as to be worthy of your ordination.”

He then told them: “You should be able to understand at least one of our reasons why Latter-day Saints have a deep spiritual commitment concerning the garment. A major difference between your churches and ours is that we do not have a professional clergy, as you do. The congregations are all presided over by local leaders. They are men called from all walks of life. Yet they are ordained to the priesthood. They hold offices in the priesthood. They are set apart to presiding positions as presidents, counselors, and leaders in various categories. The women, too, share in that responsibility and in those obligations. The man who heads our congregation on Sunday as the bishop may go to work on Monday as a postal clerk, as an office worker, a farmer, a doctor; or he may be an air force pilot or a naval officer. By our standard he is as much an ordained minister as you are by your standard. He is recognized as such by most governments. We draw something of the same benefits from this special clothing as you would draw from your clerical vestments. The difference is that we wear ours under our clothing instead of outside, for we are employed in various occupations in addition to our service in the Church. These sacred things we do not wish to parade before the world.”

He then explained that there are some deeper spiritual meanings as well, connecting the practice of wearing this garment with covenants that are made in the temple. We wouldn’t find it necessary to discuss these—not that they are secret, he repeated, but because they are sacred.

The garment, covering the body, is a visual and tactile reminder of these covenants. For many Church members the garment has formed a barrier of protection when the wearer has been faced with temptation. Among other things it symbolizes our deep respect for the laws of God—among them the moral standard. (lds.org)

I have one more link that should help you understand a little bit better, but please remember that this page was created by Brigham Young University and is not officially endorsed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visit the Encyclopedia of Mormonism site on garments to learn more about why the garment is worn, how they are purchased, what they symbolize, and discussion of references to holy garments mentioned throughout the bible.

I was pleasantly surprised by the response I received to my last Sunday post of 2008, asking for suggestions for Sunday post topics in 2009. Thanks to all of those who chimed in. Here is what I will be covering in 2009:

Amanda asked about emergency food storage, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre (if you saw the PBS special on Mormonism you may be curious about this as well).

Kaitlyn asked about missions. Great timing for such a question since That Husband retrieved a bunch of mission pictures from the home of his parents over Christmas, and I think it would be fun to show you some of them. Maybe if you all ask really nicely and explain what it would mean to you he will write a guest post about his mission experience in NYC.

Paula asked about the Sunday service format (did you know I go to church for 3 hours every Sunday?), LDS history (a series of posts in July would be a really great way to celebrate Pioneer day), and what my favorite things about the Church and SLC are.

Christiana asked about church hierarchy. A great question because it’s something I often have to study up on myself.

Anne, a Catholic anthropologist who studies human reproduction (a fascinating career choice, in my opinion) wants to know all about LDS views on things like birth control, IVF and other infertility treatments, medically necessary abortions, etc. One of the few “disagreements” That Husband and I had while we were still dating was on the topic of adoption and surrogate motherhood so I know a little bit about it. I’m going to really enjoy researching these topics for myself, and since I plan on getting pregnant myself in the future it will be good to know.

Kristin‘s questions were all about marriage, one of my favorite topics (did you know I love being married?). She wants to know how the church handles remarriage and the topic of marriage and death (a very common question since we believe in marriage for eternity), and posed a really difficult question surrounding a passage in Matthew 22. Kristin, I plan to answer that question as best I can, but it’s a tough one and I plan on consulting some of my old BYU professors for their help in interpreting the verse.

Kate emailed me a list of topics so long I think I can write well into 2010 attempting to answer all of her questions. Thank you so much Kate! Here is an abbreviated list of topics she asked about:

-Heaven (I’m going to add Hell to that post because we don’t believe in traditional “Hell” that most Christian faiths subscribe to).

-How does the “sealing” of spouses and families to each other work?

-How does baptism for the dead work?

-How can a person get into heaven?

-Where did the “soul” come from? Did we exist before we were born?

-Adoption

-Ghosts (interesting question!)

-Forgiveness, conversion, and baptism (A topic so beautiful, so moving, I fear my words will not do it justice)

-That Husband and his conversion story (notice a pattern honey, everyone wants to know!)

I’m working really hard to convince That Husband to write a post about his conversion story, but it’s a deeply personal experience for him and he is still not convinced it would be a good idea. I know many of you would like to hear that story, so feel free to let That Husband know why you are so interested in his personal conversion story in the comments.

And as always, do you have any more questions/suggestions for future Sunday post topics?

For the last Sunday of each month I’m going to write a new post and also summarize the previous 3 posts from that month.

Sunday-An introduction to Sunday posts and why I want to write them

Who/What is “Mormon”?-Why do they call the LDS church members “Mormons”? Why do we read a book named after him?

LDS Temples: Sacred, Not Secret-The most popular religious post to date, focused on explaining why we have temples, and why a recommend is required to enter.

Finding Joy In The Journey-Inspiring words from our current Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson

FHE: Family Home Evening-FHE happens on Monday night, a time for families to reconnect and grow together spiritually.

Tithing-Read the comments on this post, it was fascinating to learn how tithing functions in other churches.

Christmas In Ancient America-The story of Christmas as it was experienced in Ancient America

This week instead of writing a new post, I’m going to turn to you and ask, sincerely (imagine me really asking it, I have a slightly high pitched voice and I do this weird thing with my eyes when I am really serious) “What do you want to hear?”

I would like to write the things about our church that you really want to read about. I’m open to all topics, and will write as much as I can to give you a satisfactory answer. For some reason, in the past people have expressed reticence regarding asking questions about my belief system. They start their questions with phrases like “I hope this doesn’t offend you” or “Don’t be mad, but,” and I see no need for that. I enjoy sharing my belief system with others, and I encourage any and all questions.

So readers, what topics would you like me to write Sunday posts on? More about the temples? Missionary work? The Book of Mormon? The hierarchy of the leaders of the church? Any request will be considered, and if I don’t feel like it is something I can answer publicly, I will email you personally.

Also, if you have a question you are hesitating to ask in such a public forum, please email me:  thatwife @ gmail dot com.

And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

John 10:16

These other sheep were the people of Ancient America, among whom it had been prophesied that Christ would one day come. Manuscripts of explorers from as early as the 16th century tell of native oral traditions which speak of a white God who came down among the people, healing the sick and the lame.

The story is told in 3 Nephi Chapter 1 of the Book of Mormon. For several hundred years prophets had preached to the ancient American peoples concerning the birth of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ and the miraculous signs that would accompany his birth. Some no longer believed Christ would come, and began to persecute those who believed the signs would be manifest. “Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.”

The people who believed began to sorrow. Prophets throughout the years had spoken of day and a night and a day which would be as one day (in other words, it would be light for36 hours straight). Would these miraculous things come to pass?

The persecutors of the believers decided to set a deadline. If the sign did not occur by a certain day, all of the believers would be put to death. The prophet Nephi prayed unto the Lord on the behalf of the believers, and the Lord spoke unto him saying “Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world.”

The night before the day of the deadline, the sun went down and the world was filled with light. Those who had threatened the lives of the believers fell to the earth in astonishment. After the 36 hour period the sun went down and darkness fell over the land once again.

“And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.”

The King of Kings, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had been born. He saved the faithful believers from temporal death at his birth, and he would save them from spiritual death upon the event of his crucifixion.

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Matthew 1:23

Thanks to all of those who have commented on my Sunday posts so far; offering encouragement, and to my surprise asking questions about the LDS faith that they would like to see answered. By all means, please continue to ask those questions! I think that sometimes we are afraid to ask questions about each others belief systems because we don’t want to sound ignorant or rude, but I enjoy taking the opportunity to share information about my beliefs with all of you. I don’t know if you will have many questions or insights about this weeks topic, since it is pretty straight forward, but if you have questions about other things, fire away! I’m creating a back-log of Sunday post drafts so if you ask a question that involves enough of an answer to warrant a post in reply, I’ll be sure to answer it publicly at some point. Again, thank you! I get so excited to write these posts every week because of your wonderful words of encouragement and appreciation. It sounds so nerdy, but I just love all of you, my little blog friends!

This weeks topic is one that most of you will be a little more familiar with, tithing. We just went in for what we call “tithing settlement” with our bishop (church leader) a few hours ago so it has been on my mind.

Church members give one-tenth of their income to the Lord, and this is done by paying it to His church. The definition of the word “income” is left up to each individual member, which results in some paying from their gross income, some from their net income, and some using the self-defined word “increase.” It’s a very personal matter that each person must reconcile with the Lord on their own. However they define their personal increase, 1/10th of that money must be paid each year.

Tithing is not something I personally struggle with because I see it as an opportunity to give back to the Lord a small portion of what he provided to me in the first place. I believe that everything we have comes from God, so giving 1/10th of our increase feels very natural to me. The instruction to offer tithing can be found in Malachi:

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).

Something you may not know about our church is that there are no paid clergy within the church. Their are persons employed by the church, working in publication, PR, etc, but they work as employees, not part of the Priesthood or auxiliary organizations. Are there other churches like ours that run purely through the service of its members? [Editors Note: A commenter revealed to me that this paragraph isn’t very clear. We DO have the Priesthood. I wanted to point out that members of the clergy, the Priesthood holders, are not paid for their service.]

I am sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways that tithing money is used. Some of those include the building of meetinghouses and temples, missionary work, relief aid around the world, education, etc. Tuition at Brigham Young University, where That Husband and I went to school and fell in love, is subsidized by tithing, making it cost less than $2000/semester in tuition to attend!

I learned something interesting about tithing in my LDS History class last year. The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 disincorporated the church (the Act was primarily aimed at eliminating Polygamy), and allowed the federal government to seize all church properties valued over $50,000. Needless to say, the church was broke. The church began renting everything, tabernacle, temple, meetinghouses, land, paid for with a loan secured by church leader Heber J. Grant for 57% annually.

As you can imagine, the church was deeply in debt. The members of the LDS faith had been living in Utah for less than 40 years at this point, and after traveling there in covered wagons they were nowhere near wealthy enough collectively to buy pay off the properties siezed by the government. Tithing was being paid, but it was going to what was called the Bishops Storehouse in the form of wheat, potatoes, and other items members could produce and contribute instead of cash. The President of the Church at the time, President Lorenzo Snow, began to preach the necessity of paying tithing in cash. According to my professor, it is said (I say it is said because I’m highly skeptical about facets of the stories that sound an awful lot like folklore) that he promised the Saints that paying their tithing in full for the remainder of their lives he will personally escort them into the Celestial kingdom.

From that point on, tithing has primarily been paid in cash, by members all over the world. Their are many beautiful stories told of people paying their tithing instead of buying groceries to feed their family for the week, and the food being provided by a kind friend or stranger who noticed they were in need.

Now that you understand the why, you might be a little more curious about the how. The first Sunday of every month in the Church is considered “Fast Sunday” where all members fast. This is the day that most strive to pay their tithing. I’m horrible at paying on a regular basis and usually end up paying around 3 or 4 times a year. Some people write one big check at the end of the year for all of their income. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, as long as you pay 10% of your increase each year. A slip is filled out, the check or cash is enclosed, and an envelope is handed to a member of the church leadership. All of these contributions are recorded and then deposited into the bank. From there it is distributed throughout the world, with the distribution being delegated by the President of the Church and his counselors.

The tithing settlement I mentioned earlier in the post happens once a year. It’s an opportunity for families to meet together with their bishop (church leader), finish paying their tithing for the year, and declare whether they are full or partial tithe payers. I loved tithing settlement when I was young because the bishop always had candy sitting on his desk. I would bring all of my pennies and dump them all over his desk. Yes, even small children are encouraged to pay on their increase throughout the year. As my sister and I grew older we enjoyed trying to sneak a look at my dad’s tithing paper to try to figure out what his personal increase is. We still have no idea to this day. 🙂

I believe the law of tithing to be a true and correct principle. I know that it helps His church to run efficiently and spread throughout the world. I believe tithing is not an obligation, but a privilege. I have been blessed throughout my life because I have paid my tithing.

For those reading who are members of other faiths, I am deeply curious to hear more about your own experiences with tithing. How is tithing paid in your church? What are you encouraged to give?

Oh, and Utah readers, please keep in mind that tithing and tipping are not the same thing. As a former Utah waitress I plead with you to remember that tithing is 10%, but tipping is 15%+. Servers in Utah are paid $2/hour!

Our Church loves to provide plenty of activities over the holiday season.

This morning we are having breakfast at the church at 9 AM (SO EARLY for newlyweds). Usually I would vote for sleeping in but we’re trying to cut down on our grocery budget and this is a free meal.

Tonight That Husband will be attending a church meeting for men (Priesthood Leadership Meeting) from 4:00-6:00 pm, and then come home starving, ready for dinner.

We’ll eat super fast and then both head over to the Adult Session of Stake Conference which will run from 7:00-9:00 pm.

Then we’ll get up the next morning and go to General Session of Stake Conference which lasts from 9:00-11:00 AM.

It’s a lot of church, but usually church on Sunday lasts for 3 hours, so we get excited about getting home an hour early! (Not that we don’t love church, cuz we do, we just also love Sunday Nap Time.)

Just so you know, this is my third General Session of Stake Conference in 2 months. 3rd. I’m like the Stake Conference champion.

Next week you will find us posing in a live nativity as Mary and Joseph.

We are supposed to sit without moving or speaking for an hour. What do you think about for that long? I might try to sneak my ipod under that little headscarf thing.

What activities will you be doing with your church over the holidays?

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