The Winder Family Comes Out of Hiding! or Hidden Wife, Hidden Life.

The second episode of Season 2 of Seeking Sister Wife is by far my favorite episode to date!  There are so many funny moments! I just laughed out loud on more than one occasion.  One was the very awkward conversation that Bernie has with his son John.  Oh man, you just can’t make that stuff up!  The confusion on John’s face was just priceless.  Bernie, from one father to another, I think you handled it well.

Another time that got me laughing was actually in the preview for the next episode where Vanessa provocatively orders a piece of red meat on her first date with Dimitri.  This, of course, was after she learned that the Snowdens are essentially pescatarian, as a matter of family policy.  But she likes her steaks and cheeseburgers!  Such a funny situation, and very bold of Vanessa.  I know it sparked some interesting conversations in my house, and I am sure there will be more to come.

Perhaps the funniest moment, however, was the public debut of the Winder family.  The situation was just too comical for words, and probably more funny for me because I know, first hand, the courage it took to do something like that!  And yet, despite all the emotional buildup and bravery, there was no one to appreciate it but some ducks.  It’s just too funny!  It reminds me of that old saying about sounds and falling trees in the forest.  You know the one: if a polygamous family comes out in the open together, but no one is there to see it…?

winders at park

Baby steps, baby steps.

In all seriousness, I think divulging themselves to the ducks is an admirable first step!  It means they have personally, and fully, embraced the reality of their own family, and are ready to take the next step, and that can be one of the hardest things to do.  Honestly, this may have been the best way to do it.  If they could go together, as a family (and those are not the same things), to an empty park (but where the possibility of being seen is a reality – where the sense and prospect of danger are real) a dozen times before actually going out where people would be guaranteed to see them, they would already have gone a long way towards conquering their personal fears.  And of course, they have gone quite a bit farther than that now.  What with being on national TV and all.

I remember, with a twinge of PTSD, our own efforts to announce the change in our family when we became plural.  The fear and uncertainty were so intense at times!!  And the losses were bitter and painful!!  But it has all been worth it.

There was fear of the repercussions from so many angles!  And it is the same for most, if not all other polygamous families.  We faced social, familial, and religious shunning wondering what our neighbors, friends, coworkers, family, and fellow church members would say, or how they would treat us and our children.  We were especially keen to the possible social consequences for our children – the decisions were horrible!  There were also financial fears, and legal fears.  We could go to jail, I could lose my job.  Every. Single. Thing. that we had worked so hard to gain and build – our family, our home, my career, our children, our friendships, and our very reputations –  was literally at stake.  It could all so easily come tumbling down into a broken pile of smoldering garbage.  Everything could be lost, and there was literally no earthly help or community that we could fall back on for support (however, we have built or received all of that community and support structure since).  It seemed sometimes that it was us against the entire world (and us against ourselves at other times).  Prayer was almost as common to me as breathing.  I look back on those days with wonder, and almost awe, that we survived at all, and I thank God that he walked us thru that fiery furnace.  Yes, the refining was intense, and our fears were not at all misplaced; yet, we were also given peace and courage sufficient to meet our fears, face them, and overcome them.  It was an amazing roller-coaster ride!

Scariest-Roller-Coasters-in-the-world

We had letters written to us by family members accusing us of adultery and other sorts of gross wickedness.  Similar letters were sent out to other family members, warning them of our dangerous influences.  We had death threats against us, the police were called to investigate us, ecclesiastical leaders were called to discipline us, and child protective services were called (DCFS) to remove our children.  But nothing came of any of these attacks.  There was no weapon forged against us that prevailed.

Melissa’s children were even kidnapped by her parents for a short time.  They were going to send her kids up to Washington State to live with their deadbeat father who is generally unstable, has lived in dozens of locations, is a known drug addict, owes 6 figures in child support, has been physically abusive, has multiple arrests, is into prostitutes, and has been married to 6 different women!  Can someone please explain how that is better than a man being financially stable, providing for his children (in both emotional and financial ways) but being married and maintaining a healthy relationship with 2 women!?  It’s crazy!  Literally crazy! Eventually, they relented and changed their actions when they realized that they were the felons (kidnapping) and not us (polygamy was alegal in Utah at the time of the kidnapping – thank you Judge Waddoups!).

We were openly uninvited to family parties.  I had family members that I hadn’t talked to in years, go out of their way to reach out to let me know that they disapproved of my life.  We were all excommunicated from the church that we had been born and raised in.  But when we kept on attending as non-members, my daughter was abused by her Sunday School teacher, and the church gave us legal notice that we were unwelcome in the most profound way possible.  We were not even allowed to set foot on any church property anywhere in the world!  The McGee family sadly describes a similar experience with their Synagogue (I’ll have a future post on this topic).

We literally had former friends place curses (in the name of the Lord – of course) upon us and our family.  I’m not making this stuff up.  I couldn’t.  I can hardly believe it now.

I used to ride a van pool to work.  It was convenient because the van would meet at a parking lot just one block from my house.  Rain or shine I would always walk in between my house and the van pool.  After we became plural, I remember being so grateful for the change in daylight savings time – just so I could walk home in the dark and not have to see my neighbors.

I thought about the 6th lecture on faith many times during those days.  Especially verses 5-8.

For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also, counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, requires more than mere belief, or supposition that he is doing the will of God, but actual knowledge: realizing, that when these sufferings are ended he will enter into eternal rest; and be a partaker of the glory of God.
– LoF 6:5

I remember having Jesus’ parable of the man building a tower brought to my mind so many times!  Those words were a steady a source of strength and inspiration for me.

At some point, everyone needs to live an authentic life – in my opinion.  The potential dangers and discomforts of the many forms of persecution are eventually outweighed by the desire to simply live rightly and face the consequences – whatever they may be.  Sophie Winder expresses this in the first episode when she talks about not having to be the hidden wife anymore, and Tami mentions it in the second episode when they are planning their outing to the park for Sadie’s Birthday party.  There comes a point when you are ready to just be done hiding.  There is no need to act rashly or foolishly, but when the time is right you’ll know it.  Hopefully, you will then have the courage to carry it out and see it thru to the end.

Despite all the hardships we endured, there have still been some good and true friends who have stuck by us while the false have fallen away.  Also, there have been plenty of new friends, a thousand times better than the old ones.  Some family members too, from the beginning, have maintained and reaffirmed their love and support of us, and that has been wonderful.  There are even some family members, originally antagonistic, who have now come around in some ways, and our relationships are healing.

Things have calmed down significantly for us since then.  The roller-coaster ride has slowed and transitioned from almost constant nausea to almost constant enjoyment.  There are still ups and downs, but we are enjoying the view and the thrill of the ride much more now, and we’ve loosened up our grip on the safety bar – now that our fear of certain and sudden death has subsided.  Even so, it has taken us years to fully come out into the public eye.  Starting this blog has been another step for us, and I’m so glad Charlotte did it.

elephant

We told our friends and family one by one.  Maybe there was a better way, but at the time it seemed like the most manageable way to handle all the upset and emotion.  Like eating an elephant one bite at a time.  And I suppose we are still not finished.  When Melissa and I were married we had no public celebration, but we are finally getting around to doing it this summer!  Let us know if you want an invitation.

 

Sealing Part III (The Parable of the Two Sons)

And when Jesus was come into the temple, the high priests and the elders of the church came unto him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority do you do these things?”, and, “who gave you this authority?”

Jesus answered them, “Tell me what you think? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go find yourself a wife, and make an eternal family.’

The first son said, ‘I’m not interested.’  Nevertheless, he eventually did find a wife, but they were not married in the temple.  And yet he loved and cherished her like a treasure, and worked hard to lead their growing family, and to provide for all her needs.  She likewise loved and honored him as her husband, and was a devoted and supporting wife.

Then the man came to the second son, and told him likewise to, ‘find yourself a wife, and make an eternal family.’

And he answered and said, ‘I will sir.’  He found a woman, and married her in the temple – a fact that he was always very proud of.  By and by he began to neglect and abuse her, and she him.  They insulted rather than complimented one another, they were always on the lookout to find fault and to take offense, they never apologized or reconciled, and they were secretly glad when something bad happened to the other.  They were miserable, but still took pride in the fact that they were married by the proper authority.”

When Jesus was finished he asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”

It was actually harder for them to answer than you might realize, but eventually one elder, who was a little wiser than the rest, replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus said unto them, “Truly I say unto you, that the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”

What is Sealing? (Part II)

What is Sealing? (Part I)

In my post about the social/legal side of marriage I said that I would write a future post about the spiritual aspects of marriage.  In particular, I am going to give some thoughts on the Mormon concept of “sealing”.  I realize this might not be interesting to all readers, but it is an essential concept for understanding the full import of Mormon polygamy.

The words that follow are adaptations of the words I prepared for a marriage rededication ceremony for some friends of mine.  Just to give a little of the back story, I will repeat the beginning of my previous post:

A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage.  They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony.  It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other.  It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing.  You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances.  This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence.  When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience.  Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.

My friends were not polygamists (never have been and never want to be), but many of the things I said will have obvious application to marriage in general.  Here we go.

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To express it briefly, sealing is all about a continuation of the family relationships that are formed in mortality.  The hope is that those relationships which have been sealed will have the power to extend beyond this life, and into eternity, or in other words, that the covenants involved in family life will continue indefinitely.

The belief is that there is something essential about human familial interaction that can be preserved and endure forever – if it is worth preserving (that is, if it is Heavenly).  While it is true that we may not know the exact details of Heavenly life, we believe that earthly life can be made to mirror Heaven in some respects, that earth can be made a little piece of Heaven, that the Kingdom of God can be within us, and among us, and that we can be personally (and as a family and even as a community) fashioned and made fit for Heaven as clay in a potter’s hand.

If you had to guess which one heaven was more like, a Church or a Family, which would you say?  I would say that Heaven is more like a Family than a Church.  In fact I would say that it was like one family in particular: The family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In fact Jesus calls Heaven, “Abraham’s bosom“.  Those who enter are said to, “sit down” with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And all the faithful who are Christ’s will be part of that family.  Whether natural branches or adopted in, they will be the seed of Abraham.

Capture

The structure of this family looks like this; there are 3 patriarchs at the head (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), below them are the 12 tribes (the sons of Jacob), next are the 70 descendants of Israel that entered into Egypt (which is symbolic of the world), finally there is the mixed multitude of their descendants and others who have joined them in their journey to the Promised Land.  This structure is very similar to the hierarchical structure of the Church with it’s Presidency (3), Apostles (12), 70s, and members.

But here is the question: is Abraham’s family supposed to be reminding us that the Church is the real thing to be a part of, or is the Church supposed to be reminding us that Abraham’s Family is the real thing to be a part of?  Well, I’ll give you a hint; Jesus never refers to Heaven as Russell’s bosom.

For Elder Parley P. Pratt, a knowledge of this doctrine of an eternal, heavenly family deepened his love for his own family:

     “It was at this time that I received from him the first idea of eternal family organization, and the eternal union of the sexes, in those inexpressibly endearing relationships which none but the highly intellectual, the refined and pure in heart, know how to prize, and which are at the foundation of everything worthy to be called happiness.
.     Till then I had learned to esteem kindred affections and sympathies as appertaining solely to this transitory state, as something from which my heart must be entirely weaned, in order to be fitted for its heavenly state.
.     It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter.
.     It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore.…
.     I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this grovelling sphere and expand it as the ocean.… In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also.”
– Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 297–298

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Lester Ralph’s illustration from Eve’s Diary, pg 42

For those who love and cherish their families, and spouses, it would not fully be Heaven without them.  Mark Twain expressed it very well in, Eve’s DiaryThe final words of that story are Adam’s description of his beloved Eve:

“Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden.”

Mormons get too wrapped up in authority. They argue with everyone about it.  They even argue among themselves about it.  For many of them it seems that authority, for all the reverence they give it,  is their religion, and this sometimes leads them to say foolish things.  Things like, “Plural marriage without the proper authority is sin.” or, “Unauthorized polygamy is adultery.” or, “Polygamy will damn those who practice it, unless their unions have been authorized by the One Man who holds all the authority (keys)”.

I’ll say a little more about authority in the next installment of this post, but for now I’d just like to point out that in section 132 the Lord mentions three separate cases where a man and woman can make a covenant with each other (these cases are in verses 15, 18, 19).  In every case mentioned, the covenant is between the man and the woman, or between the man, the woman, and God.  There are no mentions made of government officials, state approval, judges, magistrates, or licenses, nor priests, bishops, elders or other clergy.  Furthermore, in every case, no matter how it is done, the Lord calls it “Marriage”, and marriage is always honorable.

And yet, a marriage union has both civil and religious recognition and ramifications.  This is because marriage is fundamental both to our society here as well as in Heaven.  In D&C 130:2 we read,

“And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”

Indeed, there is something potentially eternal about our relationships.  Hopefully, we will treat them that way.

What is Sealing? Part II