Un-SexyModest: Or, What A Pope Can Teach Us About Modesty

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Pope Francis’ obvious decency appeals to me as a human.  His discourse and homilies appeal to me as a Christian.

But his humble actions appeal to me as a Mormon woman who is weary of witnessing, over and over, how we culturally misuse the term “modesty” and reduce it to base rules governing the attire of (primarily) teenage girls.

Pope Francis gives me hope for the future of our modesty discourse because in five months, he has somehow managed to make humility and  modesty cool again.

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Apostasy Narratives

First, read this quote from James Talmage’s Jesus is the Christ, which is quoted (among other places) in the Doctrines of the Gospel manual (published in 2000):

“For over seventeen hundred years on the eastern hemisphere, and for more than fourteen centuries on the western, there appears to have been silence between the heavens and the earth. Of direct revelation from God to man during this long interval, we have no authentic record.”

Then, read this quote from Elder Ballard’s 1994 General Conference talk:

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The Unconventional Missionary

Every member a missionary? I am not proud to admit that I am squirmingly uncomfortable engaging in traditional missionary efforts — handing out Book of Mormons, inviting friends to “special firesides,” committing to do “x” initiative that the missionaries/bishop/stake president ask us to commit to.  So when I had to give two lessons in a row on missionary work — as the Relief Society Manual recently required that I do — I had to dig deep.  This post from my past reminded me that I am not adverse to spiritual sharing – quite the contrary.

Perhaps I’m just better suited to different forms of Good-News-spreading than we typically talk about.  Sometimes I feel like a missionary for interfaith marriages – (Don’t let the Proc-Talk get you down! Healthy relationships are worth  celebrating! Your mom will get over it! God is Love!).

This week, when a friend was personally contacted about her ward’s mission plan, she composed this gracious and thoughtful response.  My friend may be an unconventional missionary, but I am certain she is called by God to this charism of outreach.  Listen in (shared with permission):

Dear ______:

I’m so impressed with how on top of this you are! I think the ward’s missionary plan is an interesting idea, and I hope it’ll be successful.

After a rather disastrous attempt with a neighbor and missionary work a few years ago, I have made ways I can do missionary work a matter of prayer and have found ways that I believe help me and those I’m trying to help but aren’t conventional missionary ideals.

My husband and I regularly host a Mormon LGBT group at our home that supports members of the Church who are gay and are deciding how and if they want to continue to be Mormon. I work with a lot of women across the country who struggle with the way women are treated in the Church, and I continue to befriend my friends who have decided that the Church isn’t a safe or happy place for them to be, supporting them and knowing that they’ll never come back. Some of these people are in our ward boundaries, most are not. I realize many don’t consider this missionary work, but to me, showing our sisters and brothers love and acceptance, like Christ did, is the single best way we can bring others the light of the Gospel.

I feel like this is the type of missionary work I am best able to do. It doesn’t fit in particularly well with the model below, but it is a part of my daily life, and something I feel called to do.

If I can be helpful with your work in the ward, please let me know.


Her response was a balm to me, a reminder to reach out to those in pain in our ranks and help provide a soft landing, a place of rest — wherever their journey might be taking them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on unconventional missionary work.

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Tilling the Earth

Tilling the Earth

Tomorrow is her first birthday, and she hasn’t gotten a fire ant bite yet.  That’s something of a miracle given the menacing mounds that keep popping up in our backyard.

We’ve been away from home for most of July, and though the neighbor boy did a great job watering, I have skeletal sunflowers to hack down, tomatoes to trim back, weeds to pull, over-sized cucumbers to pick, and fire ants to kill.  And mosquitos.  One of our flowerboxes didn’t drain properly, leaving a breeding pool for the blood-suckers.  The baby (almost toddler) is dotted with red bumps.

It’s 7am, and we have already been to the park and back, pushing out the door before sunrise to enjoy a couple of hours of fresh air before the heat puts us on house arrest.  I’m stuffing dead leaves into the composter, and she’s crawling off her blanket toward the flower bed.  She won’t touch a cucumber, but she’ll devour handfuls on dirt and munch on full flowers.

I started the herb and flower garden the month before she was born, digging out a rocky bed (and keeping that detail away from my doctor).  The first vegetables went in the raised beds when she was one month old.  It was late August, and for the first time since age 4, I was not starting school.  That’s 17 years as a student and 13 years as a teacher.  I wanted this child, I needed this child, but it was painful to let go of the structure of my entire conscious life.  She kicked in her bouncy seat while I planted lavender beneath the pear tree and thinned the irises.  She watched as we took out two diseased peach trees and replaced them with roses. She teethed on fresh carrots and chard.

When the first frost hit, she watched me from her blanket bundle as I draped the tomatoes in flannel sheets, desperate to save hundreds of green tomatoes that had felt my post-partum nurturing. I may have cried when some did not survive the night.

We started seedlings together inside in January: Spring peas. Spinach. Radishes. Dill.  By the time we placed them in the earth in early March, she was crawling and smearing her face with soil.  At the garden store, I would show her two flowers let her point.  She favors purples and yellows, just like her mama.

When the mystery tree turned out to be an apricot tree, we sang that great Mormon song: spring had brought us such a nice surprise. I made my first jam — the kind that can sit on a pantry shelf! — and we eat it in our yogurt every morning.

I like to think I’ve tamed this yard, but everytime I plant something new, I add to its wildness.  The squash becomes a home for potato bugs.  The tomatoes attract masses of birds that stalk me as I drape foil and netting. The composter draws flies. And now the mosquitos and fire ants, which come out to play in the hours when it is cool enough to sit on a blanket playing with sticks.

I like that my daughter has spent her first year this way.  I like that we both have constant dirt beneath our nails.  I don’t garden out of any sense of “should.” There are plenty of “should’s” that haunt me.  This was an invitation.

Something in this little plot of earth asked me if it could be a part of my family and invited me to be a part of hers.  Sometimes I think mother earth was looking out for a new mom, inviting me to learn about something about how things grow up.

Happy birthday, baby girl. Your mothers love you.

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Love Bug, Revisited

I was feeling nostalgic this weekend, and my mind wandered back to young love, in the form of a person and a bright blue bug. I published this to the blog almost exactly 6 years ago. I still miss her.

This is a love story.

February 2002. I was the new assistant head of school, working 16-hour days. I was slowly resurrecting my social life after a couple of emotionally exhausting years. And after several months of perseverant courtship, I had finally, warily agreed to date a co-worker: Mr. M. Interfaith. Inter-office. Doomed. I was much too practical to give it a real chance.

On March 4, 2002, during the height of rush hour traffic, my trusty Saturn hit a patch of ice in the left hand lane of a major freeway. My car spun twice, crossed three lanes – somehow dancing between cars – and became wedged under the shoulder guard. I walked away, but the car was loaded in chunks onto a flatbed as the snow picked up speed. M met up at the towing office, bearing blankets and hot chocolate. I accepted both in a stupor.

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