December YW lesson: What can I do to help new members of the Church?

Traducción española/Click for Spanish Translation Translation generously provided by Denisse Gómez.


Before you start, be mindful of any new converts you might have in the class (as members or visitors). Make sure they feel included and not a problem to be solved.

Introduce the Lesson

Ask the girls to describe some of the feelings that accompany new experiences, such as the first day of a class, joining a club or a team, or starting a new job. Were you nervous? Excited? Eager to fit in? Relate this to being a new member. As you discuss these experiences, see if there were things or people that made the transition easier. Relate this to what it is like to join the Church. For many people it’s a challenge as it may mean leaving behind old friendships and adjusting to a new way of life. What helps us feel like we belong?

In this lesson we will focus on three specific ways to help grow new members: friendship, responsibility/service, and spiritual nurturing.  Below I have ideas and quotes to illustrate why these three areas of support are vital. Once discussed, you as a class should brainstorm ways to implement these ideas. Here is the lesson on


In a talk called “True Friends,” Henry B. Eyring stresses the importance of reaching out to new members and ensuring they feel loved. He quotes President Hinckley on this topic: “I hope, I pray, I plead with you, every one of you, to embrace every new member of the Church. Make a friend of him or her. Hold onto them.”  I think all of us have at some point experienced the dramatic difference a friend can make. It is crucial that new members have someone to greet them, sit next to them, help them feel wanted. Eyring realizes we cannot be friends with every new member, but you can be there for at least one. All it takes is to feel something of what they feel and something of what the Savior feels for them.”

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Girls Camp, Diet Coke, & Satan

lostlakedock_ssRecently a friend asked me if I wanted to contribute an essay to a book she’s compiling about LDS Girls Camp. I’ve attended Camp as a leader on and off for 15 years and have lots of unforgettable memories. Unfortunately, the ones that stand out most in my mind would not be welcome in a family friendly collection. Here are a few of the camp stories least likely to impress Deseret Book:

-The time the power went out and it was 100 degrees and humid. I was helping in the kitchen and it was so hot we hid in the small bedroom sized fridge and drank several 6 packs of Diet Coke, ate left over strawberry shortcake with our hands, and talked about which of the men over 60 in our stake were most likely hotties back in the day. Mitt Romney came in first.

-The time one of the JC leaders was possessed by Satan. Or at least, to quote Michael Scott, “that’s what she said.” Seriously the weirdest camp experience ever. The Exorcist meets Princess Pat.

-The following year the former Stake President came to keep demons at bay and turned out to be my new BFF. We spent our afternoons planning pranks and going to Walmart to buy fans for the kitchen staff and giant plastic spiders. I’d always thought he was a nice guy, but when your SP “shakes his booty” (a practice now banned) at dinner, buys you Diet Cokes, and gets the really shy girls out of their shells, it makes you not resentful that a dude is around. Maybe even grateful.

-The time I hid the Camp Director’s garments in my pocket so the Assistant Director wouldn’t know we’d been skinny-dipping. One afternoon, the CD confessed to me that she’d always longed to skinny-dip, but had been too shy as a girl to do it. So a few of us leaders arranged to take her one night. I even made sure we had a certified lifeguard with us. We get out and hear the AD calling for us so we don’t have time to get fully dry, just enough to toss on our clothes sans underwear. The AD catches up to us and the CD slips her G’s to me as she had no pockets. Never got caught.

-The time I got caught skinny-dipping and bonded with a nurse. Sande was the nurse, I was the craft lady, and we both love water. So one night we sneak down to the dock for a dip. One of the counselors hears us and is MAD so she steals our clothes to teach us a lesson. And drops my new sneaker into the non-bathing side of the dock, the part filled with leeches and snakes and piranhas. Ok so lots of gross reeds and frog or two. We climb out of the water and I try to retrieve my shoe. I lie on the dock and stretch my arm but the shoe just keeps drifting. So Sande tries while I get an oar from the boathouse. BTW we are buck-naked. And I am a thousand months pregnant. Sande takes the oar but can’t lean far enough out, so I LAY across her thighs and butt to keep her from falling in as she whacks the oar repeatedly, trying to create a current that will push the shoe to us. It looked like she was having sex with the dock whilst being humped by a pregnant lady. Finally Sande dives into the Black Lagoon and brings back my shoe. We are now bonded for life. Sole mates. Ha ha ha. Cause of the shoe.

-The time I learned to fill up water balloons using the toilet. If you straddle the bowl and take the lid off the tank, you can use one of the valves that fills up the tank to fill up balloons. But better than that was the conversation I overheard while attaching, filling, tying, repeat. Two women had clearly grown up in the same small neighborhood because they kept saying stuff like, “remember when we used to go to church in that old school house?” or “remember when my uncle had that old pick up?” Then they shifted to talking about how their kids were doing at BYU Idaho. And one of them said, “Remember when only sluts went to college?” I was so taken aback that I forgot the balloon growing bigger and bigger on the valve until it exploded in my face. I’m still gnawing on that one.

I’m making myself sound like a troublemaker but I swear I am mostly really obedient and helpful while at Camp. The truth is I love the magic that happens there. The crazy pranks and silly skits and undercooked hobo dinners are as essential to bonding as the devotionals and testimony meetings. And I love the bonding that goes on with the leaders too. When you are tired and out of your element there’s potential for meltdowns but there is also potential for transformation. When we are vulnerable and let our walls down, that is when we let others in. Some of the sweetest friendships I have were forged while making s’mores over campfires. And sometimes it’s the messy things that are the most satisfying.




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Poop Happens

poopThis past week we took the youth of our stake on a three-day trek in New Hampshire, complete with handcarts and pioneer garb.  Our first day out was a near disaster. It poured rain and there were severe thunderstorms. We pushed back the bus schedule, switched activities around, had teams go set up tarps, and tried to salvage the day. It was a giant pain but unsuspected blessings ensued. In the end we agreed we gained more than we lost. Which got me thinking about how we react when stuff hits the fan. Because I’d been called as “Trail Boss,” I had the chance to share a few devotionals.  Here is a version of one the kids are calling the “Poop Testimony.”

As a mom of four kids, two birds, and one cat, I want to talk to you about something with which I am intimately acquainted: poop. The truth is life is going to give us lots of experiences that are foul, unpleasant, messy. Yes, poop happens. Today I will share three stories that show that each of us has the power to take these experiences and transform them into something wonderful.

First, my grandpa Oscar. He was a great man and a hard worker who married a nasty woman after my grandma died. And she had a nasty son. Oscar had horses, and one day he and this stepson were shoveling manure, some of which was spread over the gardens. Jay turned to my 70 year old Grandpa and said, “When I’m an old man, I promise you I won’t still be shoveling sh*t .” To which my Grandpa said, “You know, I HOPE I’m still shoveling sh*t at 80, and at 90. Wouldn’t that be something!”

Story number two. I was recently in Botswana and we visited a cultural center that featured traditional villages. We approached a beautiful hut with a golden colored entry whose floors were smooth and lovely. A middle-aged woman was on her hands and knees spreading a rich dark substance around on the surfaces of the floor and walls. We were informed it was cattle dung. It helps to insulate the walls, repel mosquitoes, and keep snakes away. Holy crap, that’s awesome, I thought.

Three: my favorite pioneer story is of my great something grandpa George Burnham. When he and his older brother Wallace were eight and ten, their widowed mother sent them west from Nauvoo in the company of a man named Wood. They walked the entire way with a single set of clothes. At the rivers and streams they grabbed the tails of the oxen and hung on for dear life. They earned their keep by herding the livestock and collecting buffalo chips to cook their meager meals on each night. Once they reached the Valley, Mr. Wood said goodbye and they were on their own. It was 5 years before their mother & sisters would join them.

What do these three stories have in common, excrement aside? You may think this is a life gives you lemons speech, which it sort of is. But lets face it. Even in their non-sugar enhanced state, lemons are beautiful, fragrant, and useful. Maybe a little sour but still pretty great. Poop? Not so much. But I believe if we are determined, we can always find ways to take the turds life throws at us, and find opportunities for transformation and growth. My Grandpa not only used manure as fertilizer for his garden, he also saw his ability to shovel it as a sign of good health. For him, work was a blessing not a curse. In Botswana the people found ways to take what is abundant and make it a valuable resource to beautify and protect their homes. And for my pioneer ancestors, it meant fuel and ultimately food. The Savior is the best example of transforming one thing into another: water into wine; temptation into triumph, maladies into miracles. Through His atonement we can turn our sins and pain into wisdom. Through His grace we can turn thunderstorms into opportunities for adaptation. We cannot choose what we are given, but we can choose what we do with it. I know that as we turn our hearts to Christ we will be given the insight and strength to make all things work for our good.  


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Personal Revelation in an Authoritarian Church: Balance of Power or Détente?


If you have gotten your 40th Anniversary copy of Exponent II, then you know that many past editors were asked to choose their favorite essay from their tenure at the magazine. The essay I have most often shared from my decade of as associate editor is the following piece by a wise woman and dear friend that taught me that “Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.” 

By E. Victoria Grover first published in The Exponent in Fall 2000

Sooner or later, almost every Latter-day Saint experiences conflict within the framework of his or her religious community. That conflict is particularly challenging when it seems to involve differing interpretations of the will of the Lord. In a religious environment that places great value on both personal revelation and obedience to authority, what are we to do when these two principles clash?

The Church has clear structural and ideological answers to these conflicts when they occur: Either the hierarchy of authority or the principle of stewardship tells us which interpretation will prevail.

But what do we do as individuals when we feel the promptings of the spirit get overruled? When we seem to find ourselves ill-used by someone else’s decision or perhaps even believe we are victims of the injustice within the Church? Whether it’s a matter of how Church welfare resources will be distributed or where new ward boundaries will be drawn, hundreds of decisions are made by those in authority with which we may deeply disagree. How do we deal with this when it happens? What is there for us to learn from these experiences, and where are the dangers? Finally, what is unique about the Mormon view of the dispersement of spiritual power and how can the implicit tension it creates enlighten us as individuals and as a larger community of wards and stakes in Zion?

About ten years ago, I had an interaction with a new bishop that changed the course of my spiritual life forever. In that short meeting, it became rapidly clear that he and I had very different views on fundamental principles of commitment and obligation. Over the next week, I struggled with a flood of feelings surrounding the bishop’s decision and the implications it held for me and my children. I prayed for understanding, and when it didn’t come, I prayed for relief. I felt a pressing weight of confusion, despair, and helplessness each time I thought about the difference between my conception of what was right and the bishop’s and how his decision was now going to affect my life. I felt my anger slice like a hot blade through the very cords that bound me to the ward and to the whole Church. For the first time in my adult life, I could envision the Church going forward without me in it.

I can’t remember at what point during that week I finally received an answer, but I recall the answer very clearly. Alone in my bedroom as I wept and poured out my story of injustice to the Lord yet one more time, I suddenly felt a piercing affirmation coming out of a place of emotional stillness that was not part of me, telling me very simply, “You are right.” Motionless, I listened for the rest of what I wanted to hear—the part about how the bishop was wrong and the wrath of a righteous God would soon fall on him like a thunderbolt! But that message never came. Instead, the Holy Ghost poured love out on me, and in those wonderful minutes of spiritual clarity the absence of any accusation against my bishop spoke volumes. The bishop, right or wrong, was not my concern. Instead, I saw the task of enlarging my heart and strengthening my soul lying before me, and with the assurance of God’s love and the blessings of free agency won for me by Mother Eve, I knew I had all that I needed to move on.

When our ideas or opinions are overruled by others, the first and most natural reaction is to contend with those others on behalf of our heartfelt beliefs. But contention is extremely dangerous because it hardens our hearts and drives away the Holy Ghost. It is possible for people to hold different views of what is right without succumbing to contention. People can state their views, explain them, even point out possible flaws in another person’s thinking, without invoking the spirit of contention.

One way to do this is to clarify in your own mind the purpose of the explanation in light of unconditional respect for the free agency of the person with whom you are speaking. If the purpose of your explanation is tainted by a desire to overcome the other person with your words—to convince, to control, to win–you move into dangerous territory. If, while you are speaking, you feel your respect for the other’s free agency draining out of you, watch for contempt to replace respect and any remnant of charity to disappear. You are now contending, and the purpose of your discussion has changed from explanation of defiance, from enlightenment to domination.

Contention comes not from having different ideas of what is right, but from the effort to prove another person wrong.

For all our talk about tolerance and diversity, contention as a way of sorting out our differences is both honored and glorified in America’s culture. The world often asks us to fit people and their disagreements into the dichotomous arrangement of “right and wrong.” While there certainly are important laws and principles that fit that arrangement—and knowing that we must guard against the danger of trying to rationalize away our very real sins—still, the rule of “right and wrong” serves us poorly in most disagreements with others. Even so, it is what we naturally fall back on whenever conflict occurs. As we start to fall, we grab onto contention to prop us up and support our need to be seen as “the right one” in a dispute. Even when we try to acknowledge valid issues on both sides of an argument, the very fact that we have taken sides push us us into the “us/them” duality and its corollary, which says, “they” are wrong and need to be stopped—or changed—by “we” who are right.

Christ asks his disciples to see conflict with different eyes—with out spiritual eyes—and get off the see-saw that says, “If I’m up you must be down!” he wants us to look at our brothers and sisters as a part of ourselves and realize that contending with them is as foolish as the foot contending with the hand on the same body. I believe Christ would agree with the comic strip philosopher Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The Church asks us to gather ourselves together in communities of many different people. Different is difficult and this gathering into communities has created challenges since Joseph Smith first restored the Gospel. The challenge is intensified by our belief in individual personal revelation. It is disciplined by asking our obedience to hierarchical authority. The tension between personal revelation and authority keeps us each vibrantly humming and engaged in both the workings of the Church and the pursuit of our own salvation. I believe the latter task is the more important one for each of us, from President Hinckley on down, and the Church organization serves us best when we keep that fact in mind. Then we realize that it doesn’t really matter whose idea gets acted on in the day-to-day business of running the ward, the stake, or the Church itself.

What is important is how each of us uses the Church community to refine our souls, to come unto Christ, to make our selves perfect and complete. When we come before him, Jesus will not ask us if we won in our disputes with others or even if we were on the right side. Instead, he will ask if we won our struggle against the natural man, the desire to control, the need to be essential, to feel powerful, to be right instead of righteous. If we are called upon to sacrifice on the alter of God our most tender and delicate parts—a piece of our ego—then truly in that act we become one with or Savior.

The philosopher/psychiatrist Sheldon Knopp said that all the significant battles are waged within the self. These are the only battles Christ is truly interested in.

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Exponent II: A Journey of Discovery

Fall Winter 2015 coverExciting news! The double issue for Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 is in production and will be mailed on April 30th. You don’t want to miss this 68-page celebration of Exponent II’s 40 years in publication with writings from so many beloved Mormon feminists like Gina Colvin and Lavina Fielding Anderson (not to mention the ones listed on the cover)!

Our Letter from the Editor comes from former assistant editor and Exponent permablogger, Heather Sundahl. Heather is entering her 20th year of Exponent II involvement, and there’s no one better to introduce this issue, the last piece of our 40th anniversary celebration.

Whenever people talk about Exponent II’s origin story, the word “discover” is always used. In 1972 Susan Kohler “discovered” a stack of original Woman’s Exponents published a century earlier whose purpose was to advocate for “the Rights of the Women of Zion, and the Rights of the Women of all Nations.” And as you can read in the retrospective essays of Claudia Bushman, Laurel Ulrich and Judy Dushku, within two years of that unearthing a brave group of women in Cambridge would decide that the time was right to start anew.

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