March 2015 General Women’s Session: Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bonnie L. Oscarson, General President of the Young Women’s Organization.

It is no small task to prepare an address for a worldwide sisterhood with varying experiences and privileges, let alone one tasked with defending the Church’s doctrine and teachings on the Family. There were some powerful moments in this talk where long past due truths were acknowledged and new possibilities were presented to women. But there were also times when President Oscarson fell back into the tired rhetoric so often present in Church discourse on the Family.

President Oscarson started her talk by telling the story of  Marie Madeline Cardon, an early Italian convert to the Latter-day Church. This is a remarkable story of a young woman who bravely stared down an angry mob of men and powerfully rebuked them. She claimed power from God and protected the missionaries and fellow believers in her family’s home. I am thankful that this story has been added to our record and that there is now one more example of a woman assertively standing up for herself and her beliefs. These are the role models our young women need.

I was also immensely grateful that President Oscarson openly acknowledged that life often presents unforeseen challenges and that many women do not live the “ideal” that the Proclamation on the Family puts forward. While I personally find the statement that we must “teach to the Lord’s pattern” reductive, I know there are many who are comforted when their individual experience is honestly recognized and not disappeared into a sanitized ideal. And amen to Oscarson’s admonition to plan for contingencies. While I hate to lump education and a satisfying career into the “Plan B” category, too many women have and continue to be hurt by the seemingly official sanctioning of only one life path.

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Carole M. Stephens

Sister Carole Stephens framed her talk around the children’s song, “The Family is of God,” and she based much of her talk on portions from the Proclamation on the Family. One thing I particularly appreciated about the talk was that she twice referred to Heavenly Parents. I am someone who craves acknowledgment and discussion of our Heavenly Mother, so it was very refreshing to hear Sister Stephens refer to our divine Parents.

Early in her talk, Sister Stephens acknowledged that we “try to create traditional families,” but that belonging to the family of God is not contingent on marital, financial, or social status. I think that message — that there is a place for everyone and that we all should feel a sense of belonging, despite different life circumstances — is expansive and hopeful, and I welcome such messages. I am glad that she chose not to dwell on this idea of trying “to create traditional families,” since that seems potentially alienating to those very many women who don’t belong to such families.

I also appreciated her honesty in acknowledging that she has not been tested and tried in the ways that so many other women have — she hasn’t lived through the death of a child, divorce, single parenthood, same gender attraction, infertility, or abuse.

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Henry B. Eyring

EyringThe last speaker of the evening was President Henry B. Eyring. He began his talk by addressing his “beloved Sisters,” and expressing the joy it was for him to be with us. He also shared that he thought of his mother, wife, daughters-in-law, granddaughters, and so forth, and that the “wonderful program” helped him appreciate them more.

He attributed much of the joy he has felt in his own family life to the Savior being at the heart of his family member’s individual lives. ‘Today we’ve remembered him–in prayers, hymns, and inspired sermons.” Gently introducing the theme of his talk, he expressed collective gratitude for “the Savior’s infinite compassion,” and stated simply his hope that ‘you’ve felt tonight, his love for you.’

Testifying of our relation to deity, he stated that we are “spirit daughters of our Heavenly Father.” As such, he has deep care for other women around us. “He cares for them as he cares for you. He understands their sorrows. He wants to succor them. My message to you tonight is that you can and must be an important part in giving comfort to those who need comfort.” These were such beautiful sentences, tied to such a beautiful message. I was thrilled when he said that this would be his focus.

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March 2015 General Women’s Session: Cheryl A. Esplin

The theme of this session is “The Family.”


Linda Burton, the General Relief Society President is conducting the session. The first speech was by Cheryl A. Esplin, 2nd counsellor in the General Primary cheryl-a-esplin-largePresidency. President Burton began the session by introducing members of the First Presidency and other (male) Priesthood leaders by name, then included an en masse introduction of all female General auxiliaries and the Relief Society General Board. She noted that this is the 100th anniversary of Family Home Evening, as well as the 20th anniversary of the Family Proclamation.


One of my very favourite hymns, How Firm a Foundation, set the tone for the session.   But for me, the beauty of the words of How Firm a Foundation was undermined by the video presentation of the Childrens’ Hymn: The Family is of God. It was delightful to see real families singing the song, many appeared to be of mixed nationality and varied ethnicity. But problematic for me was the absence of families without children at home, the homes of single people, and childless couples. I understand that the song is child-centred, but I noticed that the overwhelming visual definition of a family was limited very much to traditional families with many children.


I delighted in Counselor Esplin’s introduction where she used a parable of two soft drink cans.

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Growing Consciousness: Drops of Oil

By Kalyan Kanurl

By Kalyan Kanurl

By Jenny

I’m about to share with you one of the less enlightened moments of my life.  Five years ago a really good friend of mine traveled half-way across the country to help me out after my third child was born.  This friend and I did not share similar religious beliefs, but we could spend hours discussing any topic, including religion.  At this particular time, my friend was starting to reach a level of consciousness that I had not obtained yet.  In my unconscious state I made a self-righteous remark to her that we can’t both be right, so either her heaven is real or mine is.

The arrogant way in which I said this shut down any productive and loving conversation we could have had at that moment.  But love wasn’t as important to me as being right.  I needed to be right!  My whole world construct depended on it.  At the same time, something deep within me told me that I was wrong, that my need to be right at all costs was wrong.  I felt sorrow for what I had said.  I felt the same emotions that I can imagine the five virgins felt, being left out of the wedding feast.  Looking back, I realize that this was one of the bridegroom moments of my life, and I was not prepared to enter the feast.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them; but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh(1).

It’s a familiar enough parable, and the interpretation is simple, right?  If you read your scriptures, pray, and go to church, you will fill your lamp with oil (a testimony).  If you continue to fuel your testimony, then you will be ready for that great day when Christ comes again.  Then the righteous will enter into the feast with Christ and those who were lazy about developing their testimonies will be cast out.

Recently I was reading in a book called “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle and he had a different interpretation for this parable.  He compared the oil in the lamps to consciousness and the bridegroom feast to enlightenment(2).  I love that idea of the oil being consciousness, rather than testimony.  The problem with the Mormon idea of testimony is that we want to make it into an unshakable certainty that we have the exact truth, yet we are so afraid of losing our testimonies in a moment of carelessness.  This doesn’t feel like God’s way of giving light that grows “brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”  Consciousness on the other hand is continual progress.  It is the process of waking up, of receiving line upon line, of seeing beyond your own experience and understanding.  Consciousness means that you are beginning to see things from the perspective of “the other.”  It is consciousness that fuels the light within us so that we will be ready for the bridegroom moments in our lives.

I don’t think this parable is about the grand moment when Christ will physically come again.  Later in the same passage in Matthew, He says, “Verily I say unto you, verily inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me(3).”  This makes it seem like the parable is not about His second coming, but about our daily interactions with our fellow humans.  Christ comes into our lives in the form of people we interact with.  He gives us many opportunities to interact with people who are different from us and to gain consciousness, filling our lamps, so that we can enter the feast of love and enlightenment.

I think we can all sympathize with the tragic moment when the five virgins are kept from the feast because of their lack of oil.  I felt this sympathy and sadness a few weeks ago when I read about the Idaho State Senate in the news.  They had a guest chaplain from the Hindu faith come to offer the opening prayer for the session.  He gave a beautiful prayer about selflessness and peace in both English and sanscrit. However, three of the senators wouldn’t come onto the floor until the prayer was over.  One of them is quoted giving her reason for not being there: “Hindu is a false faith with false gods.  I think it’s great that Hindu people can practice their religion but since we’re the Senate, we’re setting an example of what we, Idaho believe.”

My sadness over this story stems from the fact that I understand what these senators are missing.  They are living out the tragic story of the five virgins who were not conscious enough to enter the feast of enlightenment.  The Hindu chaplain’s response to this was, “We don’t mind.  Hinduism is more embracing.  Most of them welcomed me.  They came out and shook my hand—some of them hugged me.  It was good.  There are multiple viewpoints…That is what makes the country great, you know?  Different viewpoints.”  I can’t help but see Christ’s parable clearly illustrated in these words.  Those who were conscious were able to partake of the feast of love and diversity.  They shared in another person’s sacred way of communing with God and they were uplifted by it.

However, I can’t condemn the senators who were not ready for the feast, because a lack of oil in my own lamp has also kept me from entering the feast of enlightenment.  The day I made my less than thoughtful remark to my friend, I received a drop of oil.  Somehow deep inside, my soul was awakening to the fact that I was missing something.  Like the five virgins, I knew that I was keeping myself outside of something great.  Since then my consciousness has grown, and I have found the feast to be beyond anything I could imagine.  It is a feast of truth, love, and enlightenment, rich with a variety of experiences and rituals.  It may have more than one God and more than one heaven, but the unity between fellow humans somehow makes it seem less important to have the exact truth about eternity.

I am much more aware now of the bridegroom moments in my life, but I am still not always conscious enough to be ready for the feast.  We tend to be so hard on the five virgins, but we are all in their position many times in our lives.  I can honor the moments in my life when I speak or act in a less conscious way because those moments are usually the beginning of my ever growing consciousness.


1. Matthew 25:1-13

2. Tolle, Eckhart; The Power of Now, pg. 95

3. Matthew 25:40

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The Parable of Mushrooms

posted on Flickr with Creative Commons license

posted on Flickr with Creative Commons license

I hated mushrooms…

When I was four and I wrote in my journal, “I lik all food excip mushroms.”

Family members would say, “But, they’re really good in this dish.” Or, “Maybe you’ll like them this year.”

Every year or so, I’d try them, and I’d gag, reaffirming my decision that I hated mushrooms.

But, then, about eight years ago, I decided to give mushrooms another try. My oldest kid had a lot of food allergies and after seeing all the foods that would make him sick, I decided it was silly that I was holding out on one food because of a decision I made when I was four.

And, I still hated them. Slimy, tasting of dirt, with a smell that just epitomized everything yucky.

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Go Aggies!


This is a story about my son. And my dad. And me. And how sometimes death is not the end of a relationship.

Last year, when my oldest was in 11th grade, I started to have panic attacks about college. I never thought I’d have to deal with this. My husband and I both attended BYU, and while we didn’t love it, it was affordable and academically I’ve always maintained you can get wherever you want from BYU. So I just assumed my kids would do the same. But I hadn’t factored in a kid who a) did not want to attend a Church school; and b) didn’t attend seminary regularly. And let’s be clear; our budget could not stretch to cover all these lovely little liberal arts colleges around here. Plus I did not want him taking on great debt. Which left me thinking Jonah would end up at a UMass. The schools are fine, but are no bargain. I did the math and realized once we covered tuition, he’d need to live at home.  I love Massachusetts but it is cruelly expensive. None of these things are the end of the world and I know worrying about college is a privilege. But I also know these decisions can alter our lives. I felt depressed and desperate and greedy for options.  Lots of praying ensued.

I called my sister Angela to talk about all this stuff and she joked, “Too bad Dad’s not around to write a letter for you.” I’d forgotten about my very thrifty father’s proclivity for writing letters to save money. When Lee, my oldest brother, applied and got into grad school at UCLA, he was denied instate tuition because he’d gone off to BYU and served a mission so they said he had lost his California residency. The difference between in and out of state tuition was huge and my dad was having none of it. So Dad typed up a forceful missive about why his son was still a CA resident and got Lee his cheap tuition. Next up: Danny, kid number 2, applies to med schools all over the US. He gets into several but is not even granted an interview at UCLA. My dad is outraged. Out of state tuition is a killer and who is UCLA to say no to his Danny? So once again, Dad breaks out the Smith Corona and outlines for UCLA their mistake. UCLA begrudgingly granted Danny an interview…and loved him. A week later he was accepted with a scholarship. Next came Angela who got a medium award to BYU. My dad was convinced that if BYU took SAT scores instead of just the ACT, her scholarship would have been more. So he said as much to President Holland in a forceful letter. Elder Holland politely denied his request. But by golly Dad tried! And then there’s me. I was never up for anything that required a letter. My dad was so happy I just got in to BYU that he didn’t even care that we had to pay full price. If anything, it was my fault, and not BYU’s, that nothing was special enough about me to merit a discount.

The last weekend in January 2014 I was at my friend’s house in the Berkshires with a group of really smart, interesting women. During a conversation about college with my new friend Julia, she mentioned something about one of her kids considering Utah State University.  “But out of state tuition is a bummer,” I said. She replied that USU has a special deal where kids of their alumni can get instate tuition. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “I wish it extended to grandkids since my dad was an Aggie.” She told me that come to think of it, due to the lowering of the missionary age, she’d heard that USU might have extended the tuition break to grandkids of graduates to keep their numbers up. As she spoke these words a door opened in my mind. My dad went to USU. Tuition would be affordable. It’s strong in science and engineering, which Jonah wants to study. Logan is a great college town. We have lots of family in Utah to be a safety net.  Jonah could leave home but not take on massive debt. And religiously it’s neutral. If he wanted to attend church, awesome; but nobody would stalk him if he didn’t.

The following Monday I called USU and asked if it was true, that grandkids of graduates could get instate tuition. Yes, the woman said. It’s called the Legacy Scholarship. That night I told Jonah about it all and he also seemed relieved—and excited. He immediately started googling and tells me about “genetically-modified goats that produce milk containing the spider silk proteins that can be used in their research on synthetic material for artificial ligaments.” So nerdy and so cool.

I called Angela that night and told her that dad had come through for me on the college front. She laughed and said, “Hon, you finally got your letter—from the grave.”   I teared up a bit as I thought about that, and how I just assumed that relationships have a hard stop in death. My relationship with my father was always strained. We were incapable of giving the other what the other needed: I yearned for acceptance and engagement; he expected excellence and conformity. Since his passing seven years ago, I have felt his love in ways I never did when he was alive. And since my grandmother passed last summer, I often dream of her and awake feeling like I’ve just spent the afternoon with my best friend. For Christmas I bought myself a copy of Brian Kershisnik’s “She Will Find What is Lost.” When I first saw it, I was speechless. It captures what I know has happened to me. I have been buoyed up by loving people I cannot see. I just never realized my dad was among them. I now accept that those on the other side are indeed present with us, rooting for us, and occasionally, writing letters for us.  We can find what was lost.

Jonah was accepted to USU and starts this fall.

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