Doing Hard Things (Bernie, Brandy, and Paige)

This last episode (Episode 7, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”) of Seeking Sister Wife was honestly very hard for me to watch. This difficulty had nothing to do with the quality of the filming or of the editing. It had to do with the raw truth of the matter: polygamy can be very difficult at times. And this episode, more than any of the previous episodes, highlighted many of the difficult things about it. Part of the reason it was hard to watch was that it showed the difficulties even well-adjusted, loving plural families (or potentially plural families) can experience.

We saw the very tense and awkward moments when Vanessa’s sisters were visiting in Los Angeles. Dimitri puts it so succinctly when he says that people are going to fall off, meaning relationships will be severed one way or another. It is a sad, painful, and unnecessary reality. We even got a glimpse into the struggles of (arguably) the most functional of plural families, the Alldredges, when Sharis tells about how she sometimes misses Jeff on nights he is not with her.

What’s more, it’s not just theoretical, or televised “plural families” that can have difficulties; it is my family. Watching this episode was difficult partly because it brought back memories of our own difficulties trying to live as polygamists in a society that largely frowns upon that. Fortunately, we have overcome most of those difficulties, both with others and with ourselves (but we’re not perfect yet), and things are so much better and smoother than they were in the beginning. There is so much to talk about in this episode that it is almost overwhelming.

As a plural husband, Paige McGee’s melt down was so hard to watch. I can tell that Bernie has a genuine, deep, and abiding affection for his wife. He is hurt when she is hurt. He is concerned for her welfare, for her physical and emotional well being. A person’s own emotions are difficult enough to manage. Handling other people’s emotions requires an added measure of patience and control.

I’ve talked about Paige’s issues with jealousy here and here already, so I won’t address it again – there’s not much more to say. Jealousy is natural and jealousy can serve a positive function, but jealousy also needs to be checked before it turns into envy. All that aside, I feel for Paige in this episode. When it comes to changes in plural marriage, the first wife has got some of the biggest adjustments to make. To be sure, everyone involved has to make some pretty huge changes when a new wife is added to the family. Of course, the biggest changes to any family come with the addition of the first two wives.

It is arguable that the biggest and most difficult changes accompany the marriage of the first wife. This is when the family is first forming, and therefore is experiencing the most dramatic changes. Consequently, this can also be the most difficult time for a family. I am speaking in general terms here, but the risk of divorce is highest during the first few years of marriage. There are so many adjustments that need to be made! And so many different types of adjustments – mental, physical, financial, logistical, etc. The stress can be crushing. But commitment pays off, hang in there, and give it some time and effort. Things get better with every passing year, and just because marriage is sometimes hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it!

Of course, adding the second wife is a huge adjustment for everyone too. The new wife has to adjust to being married (just as the first wife did), and adjust to the rest of the family and the first wife as well. The first wife has to adjust to her changing schedule both with her husband and also new interactions with the second wife. The children will certainly have adjustments to make, and the husband will obviously have a large additional load on his shoulders as well.

I don’t know the McGees personally (but I’d like to; they seem like very nice people) but my guess is that the mixture of emotions Paige was feeling have a lot of basis in a fear of the unknown. This fear is largely informed by our culture, which includes our family, friends, churches, laws, and a multitude of other factors. As I recall, Paige talks about her family playing the role of devil on her shoulder in the first episode – whispering doubts and encouraging envy. We saw some of the same with Vanessa Cobbs in this episode too.

Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, the fear, the jealousy, the envy, the uncertainty, and the negative responses are all real, but none of these things are sufficient reasons to give up. They are all obstacles to overcome, and, much to Paige’s credit, she pulled thru in the end! She is not even the one who asked Bernie to come back – that was TLC (and I think that was a bad move and poor form on their part). Regardless, it looks like things turned out anyway. It would have been an absolute tragedy if the date had not gone thru.

I feel for Paige and the difficult emotions she is dealing with in this episode. I feel for Bernie and his loving concern for Paige. And I feel for Brandy too! What thoughts must be going thru her head as she is waiting out in the car alone while Bernie gets called back in to console Paige? She seems to handle it well tho.

Paige knows what she wants, even if it is hard, and I admire her for that! Hard things that are worth it. We could easily make a list of a hundred things that fit this description (some harder than others) – things that you want and are willing to work and sacrifice for: Marriage, child birth, raising children, going to school, training for a marathon, quitting smoking, changing your life for the better, cleaning your room, getting up in the morning, going to work, going to church, etc. You get the idea.

There is pain and emotion connected to all of these things. That is real, and that is something that has to be dealt with if you want to accomplish anything useful or good in this world. Just because these things are hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Just because they make you cry sometimes doesn’t mean you should give up. It is an uphill battle. Be patient with yourself and others. Things take time, and there will be setbacks. Get back on that horse and keep riding!

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.

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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